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Airport TSA

TSA Warns Of Travel ‘Hiccups For Very, Very Busy Summer’

David Pekoske, the nation’s TSA chief, and airport and airline leaders throughout the nation have stated that there will be inevitable “hiccups” this summer, as the agency is expecting the largest airport passenger crowds since the Covid-19 pandemic first began. 

Pkoske said that labor shortages and an increased demand for travel have already begun to overwhelm airlines. The agency is gearing up to deploy as many as 1,000 TSA agents and K-9 units to the nation’s busiest airports to ideally counter any potential delays at security checkpoints. 

“We expect the summer to be very, very busy. That’s not to say that there will not be some hiccups along the way — those things will happen, but we’ll do everything we can to recover quickly.”

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Some expect airport crowds surpass 3 million passengers per day on the busiest travel days for the summer. The increased demand for travel has also led to pilots complaining about fatigue and flight cancellations heading into the summer at airlines including American Airlines, Southwest, Alaska, and Delta. 

 “Everybody is facing labor shortages; airlines and TSA are no different. At just about every level you can think of in the airline industry we can speak of we’re having labor shortages,” said Paul Doell, vice president for the National Air Carrier Association.

Airline restaurants and car rental companies have also been dealing with labor shortages. Customer service call centers for airlines and passengers who need wheelchair assistance, as well as ground airport employers, have also been struggling to maintain a steady supply of workers to deal with the demand for flights. 

Airlines themselves are cutting thousands of flights from their schedules as a means of helping scheduled flights run on time. This also means that TSA agents and other airline workers will likely have to work harder to get travelers to their flights on time.

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“But regional air carriers, which fly about 43% of all scheduled flights in the U.S., say they are facing labor shortages as employees such as pilots are being poached by the larger airlines. That could create issues connecting smaller destinations to larger hub airports,” said Kevin Burke, head of Airports Council International-North America.

“The pilot shortage is impacting the regionals, and we expect to see the small communities hit the hardest. We expect this to continue to be a trend, but those pain points will assert themselves at hubs as well.”

Pekoske warned that “many travelers this summer could be getting on a plane for the first time in three years, especially as masking and Covid-19 restrictions have fallen in many parts of the country and international travel restrictions are being lifted.”

“The amount of people that worked concessions prior to the pandemic are not there now, they’ve come back, but they’re nowhere near where they need to be,” Burke explained. 

“So we really ask that we try to have patience and understanding when they are dealing with employees at the airport. Everybody’s trying to do the best job they can to make sure this is safe, secure and also as comfortable as it can be under normal circumstances but especially when you have those tough days where you have storms that are disrupting the system,” Doell said. 

Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 Vaccine 

FDA Places Strict Limits On Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 Vaccine 

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced last week that it is limiting the emergency use authorization of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine for individuals 18 and older. The vaccine is now available for adults who don’t have access to other vaccinations and for adults who aren’t able to receive the other Covid-19 vaccine for personal medical reasons. 

The FDA released a statement in which they detailed the changes and why they’re being made. They explained that the change is being implemented due to the rare risk of a dangerous clotting condition known as thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) after receiving the vaccine. 

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“We’ve been closely monitoring the Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine and occurrence of TTS following its administration and have used updated information from our safety surveillance systems to revise the EUA,” Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in the statement. 

“We recognize that the Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine still has a role in the current pandemic response in the United States and across the global community. Today’s action demonstrates the robustness of our safety surveillance systems and our commitment to ensuring that science and data guide our actions.”

The agency also confirmed that the updated authorizations apply to booster doses as well. The FDA also emphasized that the benefits of the J&J vaccine outweigh the risks for certain individuals as well. 

In their statement, they wrote that individuals who had a severe allergic reaction to an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna), have personal concerns over mRNA vaccines, or don’t have access to mRNA vaccines should definitely receive the J&J jab. 

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 18.7 million doses of the J&J vaccine have been administered in the US, and of all the Americans who are currently fully vaccinated, about 7.7% got the J&J vaccine. 

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The CDC’s vaccine advisory committee issued their own statement on Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, saying it “makes a preferential recommendation for the use of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines over the Janssen adenoviral-vectored COVID-19 vaccine in all persons aged  ≥ 18 years in the United States.”

Both the CDC and FDA have made these statements mainly due to TTS concerns. When rare clotting events began appearing in the initial periods of vaccination in the US, Johnson & Johnson made a statement emphasizing their commitment to giving Americans a safe and effective vaccine. 

“The safety and well-being of the people who use our products is our number one priority. We are aware of an extremely rare disorder involving people with blood clots in combination with low platelets in a small number of individuals who have received our COVID-19 vaccine. … We have been working closely with medical experts and health authorities, and we strongly support the open communication of this information to healthcare professionals and the public.”

The FDA released data that showed around 60 cases of TTS since the J&J vaccine began its distribution, nine of those unfortunately were fatal. 

The FDA emphasized, however, that the risk for TTS is extremely rare. Current data shows that there’s about three cases of TTS for every million doses administered. 

Symptoms of TTS can appear within one to two weeks after vaccination, and they include shortness of breath, chest pain, leg swelling, persistent abdominal pain, neurological symptoms like headaches or blurred vision, and red spots appearing under the skin at the site of vaccination.

COVID-19

US Covid-19 Infections Likely To Rise Again, According To Fauci 

 Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of Joe Biden’s top advisers, said this week that a likely rise in Covid-19 cases will probably not result in a full-scale surge, or prompt a renewal of widespread health and safety procedures. 

“The bottom line is we will likely see an uptick in cases, as we’ve seen in European countries, particularly the U.K.. Hopefully we won’t see a surge. I don’t think we will.”

The BA.2 subvariant of the omicron variant is driving up cases in both Europe and Asia, specifically in Hong Kong which has been dealing with a sudden major surge of new cases within the past couple of weeks. 

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The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has made the argument that the US needs to be prepared to resume health and safety measures in public spaces, while Fauci claims that he doesn’t think that’s going to happen: “right now, at this point, I don’t see that happening.”

Covid-19 hospitalizations, deaths, and cases in general have been continuing to decline in the US. BA.2 is reportedly 50% more transmissible than the original strain of omicron, however, like omicron it doesn’t cause more severe illness or evade immunity from vaccinations or an earlier infection, according to Fauci. 

Fauci and US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy have been urging Congress to pass a Covid-19 relief package that has been stalled for quite some time now. The White House has sought out $22.5 billion in funding for relief efforts and supplies. 

The Biden Administration, however, has also warned that it will have to wind down certain programs and therapeutic treatments soon due to a lack of funding. 

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“As much work as we’ve done in the last two years to get the right tools, we’ve got to continue funding them and supporting them so they’re available to people across the country.”

“That’s why Congress moving to provide that funding is so critical,” Murthy said on Sunday.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has also argued that too much of the money meant to be allocated for Covid-19 programs and protocols has yet to be spent. 

“They ought to reprogram some of this massive amount that was spent last year that’s not out the door yet,” McConnell said on Sunday.

Fauci, 81, also discussed speculation over his retirement: “I can’t stay at this job forever. I want to make sure we’re really out of this before I really seriously consider doing anything different. We’re still in this. We have a way to go. I think we are clearly going in the right direction. I hope we stay that way.”

US Unlikely To End Covid Testing Rules For International Travel 

Throughout the past month many countries have made international travel a lot easier as the Covid-19 pandemic continues around the world. Vaccinated travelers have found it much easier to book and experience travel again, however, US travelers returning from abroad must still present negative Covid-19 test results before they’re able to safely return.

The US Virgin Islands became the latest territory to announce that vaccinated travelers no longer need to provide a negative test upon arrival, a move that other international countries, like the UK, have had in place for nearly a month. 

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According to the US Centers for Disease Control And Prevention’s (CDC) last updated guidance for international travel, which was made in December, the US requires all incoming travelers over the age of 2 to submit a negative Covid test taken within one day of departure from a foreign country in order to enter the US. 

It’s become much easier to find at-home Covid-19 tests in the US, which will allow travelers to have greater access to testing in order to go abroad and return safely. The US government’s international travel guidance allows at-home tests as an accurate result for re-entry into the country. 

The provision within the guidelines also provides a list of approved at-home tests that travelers can take before and after traveling abroad. The CDC accepts Ellume, Quered, and BinaxNow at-home tests, which are some of the most commonly sold brands throughout the US. 

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The CDC also requires that the tests are supervised by a live attendant via a video call. BinaxNow tests can even be purchased through the website eMed, which will provide an at-home test shipped directly to your home prior to your trip with instructions on how to take it with live video guidance. 

In a statement to the media, a CVS spokesperson said the company’s stores “have the ability to meet our customers’ needs with at-home test kits both in store and at CVS.com,. We have simplified the digital process so customers can order and pick up a test kit with no up-front, out-of-pocket cost or the need to submit a claim to insurance.”

Walgreens said it “worked diligently with our suppliers to ensure we have enough supply to meet customer demand at nearly all locations.”

While other countries may continue to lift certain Covid-19 protocols for international travel, the US is unlikely to follow suit anytime soon, as it is one of the nation’s with the highest rate of infection.

Uber Lyft

Uber And Lyft Now Adding Fuel Surcharges To Rides As Gas Prices Continue To Rise 

Uber and Lyft announced this week that customers will be paying more for rides temporarily, as both companies are now adding a surcharge to deal with the rise in gas prices nationwide. 

In a statement made to the media, Lyft said that the company is asking riders to pay a “temporary fuel surcharge” which will go directly to the drivers as a means of compensation for the rise in gas prices nationwide. 

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“We’ve been closely monitoring rising gas prices and their impact on our driver community,” a company spokesperson said.

The company didn’t specify how much the surcharge would be, but it will likely be dependent on the length of the trip for the rider. Uber announced last week that they would also be adding a surcharge on all Uber trips and Uber Eats services for the next 60 days. After that, the company will reassess the charges. 

“We know that prices have been going up across the economy, so we’ve done our best to help drivers and couriers without placing too much additional burden on consumers,” Uber said in a statement.

Uber customers will be paying a surcharge of either $0.45 or $0.55 on every trip, while Uber Eats deliveries will now include a charge of either $0.35 or $0.45 on each order, depending on the location of delivery. 

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Uber said the surcharges will also go directly to the drivers. Uber also clarified that the surcharge will not apply to rides that begin in New York City of Uber Eats deliveries within the city’s limits because drivers there are receiving a 5.3% increase to the city’s minimum earnings standard for the past month. 

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, gas prices have risen exponentially all around the nation. Uber and Lyft have both stated that the rise in fuel prices is the reason they’re both implementing the surcharges into their ride policies. 

As of this Monday, the average cost of a regular gallon of gas has reached $4.325, according to AAA. That price reflects a 26 cent increase in the past week alone.

Around this time last year the average price for a gallon of regular gas cost around $2.859. 

President Biden announced a ban on all US imports of Russian oil and gas, a move that he acknowledged would likely cause the price of gas to increase nationwide. Biden also pledged to do everything in his power to not have the rise in gas prices impact Americans and their wallets. 

“Defending freedom is going to cost, however, it’s going to cost us as well in the United States,” Biden said.

Vietnam Coronavirus

 CDC Adds Vietnam to List Of Highest-Risk Travel Destinations 

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) added Vietnam to it’s Level 4 risk category for travel this week. Level 4 is the highest-risk level when it comes to traveling during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

There are currently nearly 140 places within the Level 4 category of risk; which is more destinations than all other levels combined. In the beginning of 2022 about 80 places were on the list. 

The CDC places a location at “Level 4: Very High Covid-19 Risk” when more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents are registered within 28 days. 

Vietnam has become the only destination to be added to the list within recent weeks. Previously, the nation was listed at Level 3 for “high risk.” Global case numbers in general have been declining since peaking in late January, but experts are continuing to caution that the pandemic is nowhere near over. 

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New Zealand has had relatively few Covid cases due to strict pandemic protocol restrictions. Recently, however, the nation has recorded record numbers of cases in the past week. The country remains at “high risk” on Level 3 after moving up from Level 2 last week. 

The CDC advises avoiding all travel to countries deemed Level 4. The CDC does not include the US in its list of advisories, but the nation is currently coded at Level 4. Mexico, Canada, France, Peru, Singapore, and Spain are some of the other countries that have remained at Level 4 for over a month. The United Kingdom has remained there since July 2021. 

The Level 3 “high risk” category applies to destinations that have had between 100 and 500 cases per 100,000 residents within 28 days. Comoros, Hong Kong, São Tomé and Príncipe were added to the category this week. 

Hong Kong went from Level 1 to Level 3 this week, it previously was on Level 1 since May 2021. Hong Kong is currently dealing with their worst Covid-19 outbreak since the start of the pandemic, and is planning on testing its entire population in March. 

Destinations at a Level 2 are considered “Covid-19 moderate,” meaning they have around 50 to 99 cases per 100,000 residents within 28 days. 

This week, 10 destinations moved down to Level 2, including Uganda, Ghana, Republic Of Congo, Montserrat, Rwanda, Togo, Lesotho, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, and Liberia. 

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To be considered “Level 1: Covid Low” a destination must have less than 50 cases per 100,000 residents over 28 days. Nigeria was the sole destination that moved to Level 1 this week. There are only 5 other locations considered Level 1, including China where the 2022 Winter Olympics were hosted. 

Finally, the CDC also has a risk level for “unknown” risk due to a lack of information and Covid data. These are typically smaller remote places, or places with ongoing warfare/civil unrest. 

Transmission rates are “one guidepost for travelers’ personal risk calculations,” according to CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen.

“We are entering a phase in the pandemic where people need to make their own decisions based on their medical circumstances as well as their risk tolerance when it comes to contracting Covid-19,” Wen said.

“You should interpret Level 4 to mean this is a place with a lot of community transmission of Covid-19. So if you go, there is a higher chance that you could contract the coronavirus,” said Wen.

“Some people will decide the risk is too high for them, other people will say, ‘Because I am vaccinated and boosted, I am willing to take on that risk. So this really needs to be a personal decision that people weigh understanding that right now the CDC is classifying the different levels based on community transmission rates, and basically only that. They’re not taking into account individual circumstances,” Wen explained. 

You can review the CDC’s risk levels for any global destination on its travel recommendations page.

Russia Planning On Targeting Critics In Ukraine To Be Sent To Camps Or Killed, US Reports 

The United States has officially warned the United Nations that it believes Russia has plans to kill a large number of critics, dissidents, and vulnerable populations in Ukraine after an expected invasion. These vulnerable populations are at risk of being sent to camps, or killed. 

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov denied the report this week claiming it was “absolute fiction.” Ambassador Bathsheba Nell Crocker, the US representative to the Office of the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva, recently made a statement in a letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Backelet, that backs up the initial US report. 

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We have credible information that indicates Russian forces are creating lists of identified Ukrainians to be killed or sent to camps following a military occupation.”

Crocker also said in the letter that the U.S. believes “Russia would likely target those who oppose Russian actions, including Russian and Belarusian dissidents in exile in Ukraine, journalists and anti-corruption activists, and vulnerable populations such as religious and ethnic minorities and LGBTQI+ persons.” 

The document warns of potential large-scale human rights violations and abuses, especially for protestors who will likely be met with unjust force.

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“We also have credible information that Russian forces will likely use lethal measures to disperse peaceful protests or otherwise counter peaceful exercises of perceived resistance from civilian populations.”

The matter was discussed last week after Secretary of State Antony Blinken brought up the issue with the UN Security Council. Additionally, the US raised concerns over Russia’s treatment of vulnerable populations in Ukraine during a debate at the UN Human Rights Council on December 15th. 

The office of France’s President, Emmanuel Macron, made a statement this past weekend in which he discussed how he brokered an agreement in principle that would have President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet to discuss the situation in Ukraine. 

As of right now there are more than 150,000 Russian troops camped out outside Ukraine. Sources close to the White House claim that the potential meeting between presidents has not changed the reality that Russia has plans for an imminent invasion.

2021 Housing Market Concludes With Price Growths, What To Expect In 2022

The winter housing market in the US started heating up again in December, potentially leading to a hot market in the first quarter of 2022. More buyers have become motivated to hop on real estate transactions due to looming mortgage rate increases as well. 

Listing prices in December returned to double-digits similar to what the market looked like during the spring/summer of 2021 when real estate was seeing some of its most competitive transactions since the start of the pandemic. 

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According to data from Realtor.com’s chief economist Danielle Hale, “December data offered a fitting finish to the frenzy of the past year. Annual listing price growth hit double-digits again nationwide and in many of the hottest markets, after four months of single-digit pace this fall.”

“Despite buyer challenges like rising prices, limited inventory and fast-paced sales, real estate activity maintained a brisk pace throughout 2021 as factors like low mortgage rates enabled home shoppers to persist. With rate hikes now on the horizon, buyers may be trying to get ahead of higher monthly housing costs, in turn driving up competition and prices,” Hale explained.

“Our 2022 forecast anticipates affordability challenges this year, but also that trends like rising incomes and workplace flexibility could offer some Americans a better shot at finding a home.”

“For those who weren’t successful in 2021, we expect better luck in the coming months as more sellers plan to enter the market – and if December’s listings are an indication, with high asking prices in mind,” she explained. 

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 In 2021 the demand for homes was much higher than the supply, which drove prices even higher and will likely continue to drive the prices up in 2022. Realtor.com is also predicting that these price increases will cause a lot of affordability issues in the new year. The average price for a home in the US is now 25% higher than it was in 2019.

Within the past two years the average price for a typical 2,000 square foot single-family home increased by 18.6% consecutively. More than 25% of the US’s largest markets saw double-digit home price gains in 2021. 

While the winter is typically a cooling off period for the market, the past two months have seen historically low listing times, as buyer activity continues to outmatch the limited inventory available throughout the nation. 

When compared to the national pace of the market, time on the market was lower in the US’s 50 largest metropolitans with an average of 48 days on the market, seven days less than last years average and 25 days less than 2019’s average. 

Inventory is expected to increase to ideally meet the demand of buyers in America. December data did show more new sellers entered the market when compared to last year’s numbers, a majority of these listings, however, are in cities. 

Record-Breaking 4.5 Million US Workers Quit Their Jobs In November 

According to the US Department of Labor, a record-breaking number of employees quit their jobs in November while the total amount of employment openings continued to drop, the department reported this Tuesday. 

Around 4.53 million Americans resigned from their jobs throughout the month of November, according to the DOL’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. This marks an 8.9% increase in resignations when compared to October. The data also shows November beating September’s record of resignations, which peaked at 4.36 million. 

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The recent months of Americans resigning has been labelled as the Great Resignation. Workers have been leaving their positions for a multitude of reasons, including not enough pay/benefits, lack of health and safety precautions, and increased mobility in the labor market. Job openings in America currently outnumber the amount of citizens looking for work. 

In October there were around 11.09 million job openings throughout the nation, and around 10.56 million in November. This time last year the job opening rate was around 4.5%, and has since increased to 6.6%. 

“The Great Resignation shows no sign of abating, with quits hitting a new record. The question is why, and the answers are for starkly different reasons,” said Robert Frick, corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union. 

“COVID-19 burnout and fear are continuing, but also, many Americans have the confidence to quit given the high level of job openings and rising pay.”

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A separate economic report from the ISM Manufacturing Index showed that manufacturing rates throughout December were slower than initially expected. The index registered a 58.7% rate, 1.3% lower than the 60% expectation. 

The index also showed major decreases in supplier delivery, which fell by 7.3% last month. While inflation in general is running at its highest level in nearly 40 years, the index also showed a shocking decrease in prices; 14.2%.

The employment index within manufacturing, however, has shown a .9% gain in employment, which is a sign that hiring within the sector is remaining relatively strong. 

As Covid cases continue to surge, the healthcare and social assistance industries are experiencing some of the highest levels of resignation, with a 3% rise in November, the highest percentage on record for that sector. 

The Labor Department is expected to release their closely watched nonfarm payroll count for December within the week. Experts in the field are expecting, and hoping, to see a growth of around 422,000 jobs with an unemployment rate of 4.1%.

Outgoing National Institutes Of Health Director Tells Americans To Focus On Covid As The Real Enemy 

“I get upset because people point to anecdotes of somebody who got sick even though they had been vaccinated and say, ‘There, you see, it doesn’t work,’ That’s way too simplistic,” said Dr. Francis Collins on his last day as director of the National Institutes of Health. 

Around 50 million Americans still haven’t received even their first dose of Covid-19 inoculation, and with the omicron variant causing a major surge in new cases throughout the US, Collins made his frustration in those still refusing to get vaccinated evident. 

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“How did that happen? How did we get all of this so mixed up with social media, misinformation, and political insertion into the discussion? This is the thing for me on my last day as NIH director that I find particularly frustrating.”

An investigation performed by NPR revealed that vaccination rates are substantially lower in US counties that were in support of former president Donald Trump. Individuals living in counties that had a 60% or higher approval rating for Trump are three times more likely to die from Covid-19 due to the lack of inoculations. 

“We’ve got to remember, Covid is the enemy. It’s not the other people in the other political party. It’s not the people on Facebook who are posting all sorts of crazy conspiracies. This is the enemy,” Collins exclaimed. 

“We in this country have somehow gotten all fractured into a hyper-polarized, politicized view that never should have been mixed with public health. It’s been ruinous and history will judge harshly those people who have continued to defocus the effort and focus on conspiracies and things that are demonstrably false.”

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Collins also warned that with its dozens of mutations, “the omicron variant has the properties to potentially be evasive of the vaccines. I urge the 60% of Americans who are eligible for a booster shot but haven’t gotten one to take action.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci spoke to the media this week as well, explaining that the omicron variant is particularly concerning because of its “extraordinary transmissibility. It has a ‘doubling time’ of just 2-3 days. That’s the time it takes for the number of coronavirus cases to double.” 

Data from South Africa, where the omicron variant first emerged, shows that it leads to less severe symptoms and does require less hospitalization, but that could also be due to the fact that “South Africa’s population has so much experience with prior infections that it might be underlying immunity that’s making it look like it’s less severe.”

“And even if omicron does turn out to be less severe than delta, the sheer number of expected omicron infections is likely to overcome the “slight-to-moderate diminution in severity. U.S. hospitals are going to be very stressed with people,” Fauci said.