To ensure we are equipping our readers with all the information they need, we will continue to report on all travel, safety, and COVID-related news that could impact a Disney Parks visit.
Things with COVID-19 have changed over the past few months.
We’ve shared news about vaccine updates, mask rule changes, COVID-19 numbers in Florida, and more. Now, due to the latest information about the Omicron variant, things have changed and developed again. So what’s the current status of restrictions and other information related to Omicron? Here’s what you need to know.
What is Omicron?
Omicron is the name of a new COVID-19 variant. According to the World Health Organization (“WHO”), the variant was first reported to them from South Africa on November 24th, 2021. On November 26th, 2021, the WHO identified Omicron as a “variant of concern.”
According to the WHO, Omicron “has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning.” Initial evidence seems to suggest that there is an “increased risk of reinfection” with Omicron. There are a number of studies underway with regards to this variant.
The WHO has acknowledged that there are many uncertainties when it comes to Omicron. The WHO notes that “As of 1 December 2021, there is limited information about Omicron. Studies are ongoing to determine if there is a change in how easily the virus spreads or the severity of disease it causes, and if there are any impacts on protective measures.”
The WHO released a video with more information about Omicron on December 17th, 2021. In the video, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove answers a number of questions regarding this variant specifically. When it comes to transmissibility, Dr. Kerkhove noted, “we are seeing a really increased growth rate of Omicron over other variants of concern…At the time of filming this Omicron has been detected in more than 77 countries, but it’s likely that it’s present in other countries as well.”
According to Dr. Kerkhove, “some of the mutations that are identified in Omicron will provide a growth advantage, will allow it to be more transmissible.”
What about severity? There’s still some unknowns there too. According to Dr. Kerkhove from what they do know so far, individuals who get Omicron “can have the full spectrum of disease, everything from asymptomatic infection, mild infection, people needing hospitalization, and people have died from Omicron.”
But Dr. Kerkhove noted that some initial reports “suggest that Omicron is less severe compared to Delta.” Even if it is less severe, there can be lots of complications. Dr. Kerkhove noted that, “if we have more cases, more cases mean more hospitalizations, and if a health care system is overburdened, people will die because they won’t get the appropriate care that they need.”
In terms of protecting yourself against Omicron, Dr. Kerkhove noted that the first thing is to get vaccinated. Studies regarding Omicron and the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines are underway, but Dr. Kerkhove noted “what we do know is that it is better to be vaccinated than not.” Other measures like physical distancing, wearing a well-fitted mask, cleaning your hands, and avoiding crowds were also cited as things to help prevent the spread of Omicron.
Has Omicron Been Found in the U.S.?
Previously, Omicron had not been identified in the US. However, on December 1st, 2021, CNN reported that the first confirmed case of the Omicron variant has been found in the United States, specifically in California. In a White House news briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci said that the case “was an individual who traveled from South Africa on November 22 and tested positive for Covid-19 on November 29th.” The individual was said to be self-quarantining and close contacts have thus far tested negative for COVID-19. According to Dr. Fauci, the individual was fully vaccinated and experiencing “mild symptoms, which are improving.”
President Biden previously called this variant a “cause for concern, not a cause for panic.”
As of December 20th, Click Orlando reported that Omicron is now the “dominant version of the coronavirus in the U.S., accounting for 73% of new infections last week.” According to numbers from the CDC there has been “nearly a six-fold increase in omicron’s share of infections in only one week.”
According to Newsweek, more than 1 million COVID-19 cases were recorded in the United States on Monday, January 3rd, 2022, which sets a new global daily record. Newsweek shares that “The highly mutated and contagious Omicron variant has driven the country to record the most cases in a day of any country since the pandemic began.”
Keep in mind that this entire situation can change rapidly, so be on the lookout for more updates.
Has Omicron Been Found in Florida?
The first Omicron COVID-19 cases were detected in Florida back in December of 2021, with one in Tampa and another in St. Lucie. Omicron has also been detected in the wastewater for Orange County, Florida, which is the county where much of Disney World is located.
According to Fox 13 News, back in mid-December of 2021 the number of new COVID-19 cases was at one point more than double the amount reported during a previous week. Health experts have indicated that the Omicron variant is “most likely to blame.”
Just as a general COVID-19 update, Orange County, Florida (where much of Disney World is located) was labeled as a COVID-19 hotspot, a “rapid riser county“, and now falls into the “high risk” COVID-19 tier according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In late December of 2021, Florida also broke the state’s daily record for new COVID-19 cases. According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Florida had 31,758 new COVID-19 cases on a day back in late December 2021, breaking a record for the most cases in a single day since the start of the pandemic in the U.S. in March 2020.
The Orlando Sentinel attributed this surge in cases to people’s rush to get tested ahead of the holidays. Additionally, they reported that the Omicron variant is the dominant strain among newly reported cases.
In mid-January Florida hit a milestone of 5 million reported COVID-19 cases. But the state then also fell below the top 10 spots where COVID-19 is spreading the fastest. At the start of 2022, Florida was 4th on the list of states — most recently it has dropped to 11th place.
COVID-19 Vaccines and Omicron
According to the CDC, “Current vaccines are expected to protect against severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths due to infection with the Omicron variant. However, breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated are likely to occur. With other variants, like Delta, vaccines have remained effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations, and death. The recent emergence of Omicron further emphasizes the importance of vaccination and boosters.”
According to the New York Times, Pfizer has indicated that three doses of their vaccine gives significant protection against Omicron, but 2 doses alone “may not be sufficient to protect against infection.” Note that this is based on lab tests and the New York Times indicates that these experiments “cannot say for sure how the vaccines will perform in the real world.”
Officials from Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer have all indicated that they have started trials of their COVID-19 vaccines against the new variant. According to NBC Chicago, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have both indicated that their booster shots appear to provide protection against Omicron. According to NBC Chicago, though the FDA approved the Johnson & Johnson booster, “the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people should get the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna boosters instead where possible, citing concerns over extremely rare blood clots.”
The chief medical officer for Moderna said that it would take about 3 months for Moderna to make a vaccine that specifically targets Omicron. Pfizer indicated that it could produce an Omicron-specific vaccine in about 100 days, subject (of course) to approval from the appropriate regulatory bodies.
As a general update, CNBC also reports that Pfizer and Merck have received emergency use authorization for their COVID-19 antiviral pills for use in the U.S.
According to CNBC, the CDC has now shortened the waiting period to receive a Pfizer COVID-19 booster shot from 6 months after their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, to 5 months after their second dose. Those who received the Moderna vaccine can also now get their booster shot 5 months after receiving their 2nd dose, according to FOX News. Those who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine must wait 2 months before receiving a booster.
When it comes to vaccine booster shots for those who are younger, the FDA has authorized the use of a Pfizer booster shot for those ages 12-15. This has since been approved by the CDC, according to USA Today.
COVID-19 Testing & Masks
Soon individuals will be able to get those at-home COVID-19 tests covered by private insurers. According to WESH 2 News, soon private health insurers will have to cover up to 8 at-home COVID-19 tests per month. Under the updated policy from the Biden administration, “Americans will be able to either purchase home testing kits for free under their insurance or submit receipts for the tests for reimbursement, up to the monthly per-person limit.” The administration is also working to make COVID-19 at-home tests more accessible.
In January, a government website went “live” that now allows households in the United States to get 4 FREE COVID-19 at-home tests.
When it comes to masks, WESH 2 News has reported that the Biden administration will be making “400 million N95 masks available for free to Americans” soon. Individuals within the United States will soon be able to get these free masks at pharmacies and community health centers around the country.
The CDC recently updated its mask guidance to note that “Loosely woven cloth products provide the least protection, layered finely woven products offer more protection, well-fitting disposable surgical masks and KN95s offer even more protection, and well-fitting NIOSH-approved respirators (including N95s) offer the highest level of protection.”
Travel Restrictions — United States
If you’re planning to travel to the United States from an international location, these are the current travel restrictions you need to know about.
According to the U.S. Department of State, the United States restricted travel from the following countries as of November 29th, 2021 due to concerns about Omicron: Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. These travel restrictions have since been updated. See the latest information below.
UPDATE: On December 28th, 2021, the White House issued a proclamation revoking the previous proclamation containing the travel restrictions. The updated proclamation notes that since the time of the issuance of the first proclamation, health officials have “made substantial progress in understanding the Omicron variant” and the Omicron variant has now spread to many countries, including the U.S.
As a result of this new proclamation, the travel restrictions placed on those 8 southern African countries were revoked. The restrictions were lifted effective December 31st, 2021 at 12:01AM ET.
COVID-19 Testing and Vaccination
Per an order from the CDC (which took effect starting on November 8th, 2021), all non-immigrant, non-citizen air travelers to the United States are required to be fully vaccinated and provide proof of their vaccination status BEFORE boarding a plane to the U.S. Only limited exceptions apply.
In addition to being fully vaccinated and showing proof of that, there are certain COVID-19 testing requirements. All travelers must show a negative COVID-19 test result taken no more than 1 day before travel before boarding a flight to the united States.
Proof of vaccination is not required for U.S. citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents before boarding a flight to the U.S., but they must meet certain COVID-19 testing requirements. Just as noted above, these travelers must show a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than 1 day before travel.
We’ll keep an eye out for more updates.
After You Arrive in the U.S.
In terms of suggestions for after you travel, the CDC has certain testing and quarantine recommendations. If unvaccinated, the CDC recommends staying home and self-quarantining for 5 days after international travel upon arriving in the U.S. in addition to the COVID-19 testing recommendations.
There are, however, different recommendations for those who are non-U.S. citizens and non-U.S. immigrants.
Be sure to review the recommendations to see what applies to you.
Who Should NOT Travel
In light of the Omicron variant, the WHO has issued a number of travel advisories. The WHO has specifically indicated that “Persons who are unwell, or who have not been fully vaccinated or do not have proof of previous SARS-CoV-2 infection and are at increased risk of developing severe disease and dying, including people 60 years of age or older or those with comorbidities that present increased risk of severe COVID-19 (e.g. heart disease, cancer and diabetes) should be advised to postpone travel to areas with community transmission.”
The CDC has also indicated (on its page for U.S. Citizens, U.S. Nationals, U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents, and Immigrants) that persons should not travel internationally until they are fully vaccinated.
The CDC also recommends that ALL individuals (including those who are fully vaccinated) wear a mask in indoor public places in areas of substantial or high community transmission. The CDC also notes that those who are in areas with high numbers of COVID-19 cases might want to consider wearing a mask in crowded outdoor settings.
Note that Orange County, Florida (where much of Disney World is located), is currently in the “High” transmission category. Osceola County, Florida, which is the other county Disney World is located in, is also in the High transmission category.
Note that these travel restrictions are subject to change. According to the New York Times, Natalie Quillian, the deputy coordinator for the COVID-19 response in the White House, has indicated that the administration is assessing all of the tests being used to make sure they’re effective in picking up the new Omicron variant, and they’ll remove any from the accepted list if they’re not effective. So, that’s something to keep in mind.
According to Politico, there have been some indications suggesting that Omicron originated in Europe, “raising questions about whether the U.S. might again shut down flights from Europe.” That is something that has not been confirmed or officially discussed. It is only a question at this time.
Travel Restrictions — Florida
According to the Florida Department of Health, “Florida is one of the top travel destinations in the world and there are currently no travel restrictions in place.” Note that the regular U.S. travel restrictions discussed above would apply to any travel to Florida, but Florida does not currently have any additional travel restrictions in place.
According to NPR, Florida governor Ron DeSantis has indicated that “the threat of a new worrisome COVID mutation won’t change his pledge to stand firm against lockdowns and vaccine mandates.”
The Florida Department of Health has, however, issued a public health advisory recommending the following:
- Residents and visitors are advised to wear face coverings if social distancing is not possible, both indoors and outdoors.
- Avoid closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings.
Travel Restrictions — Other Countries
If you’re planning to leave the U.S. and travel internationally, you’ll also want to keep in mind that there are some recommendations or restrictions in place.
By visiting the U.S. Department of State website, you can see all of the current travel advisories. There are various levels of travel advisories including Level 4 (Do Not Travel), Level 3 (Reconsider Travel), and more. You can check your destination and see what travel advisories are in place.
Select other countries have travel restrictions in place. For example, according to the New York Times, Japan has “asked airlines to stop taking new bookings for all flights into the country for the rest of the year.”
Previously, some restrictions had been put in place for travel from the UK to France, which impacted Disneyland Paris. Rules to travel from the UK to France have since changed, and the Disneyland Paris website has been updated to reflect that.
These flight bans went into effect January 8th and are set to last for at least 2 weeks.
Traveling and Masks
For travel in the U.S. there is a requirement that individuals wear masks on airplanes, trains, buses, and at airports and transit stations.
The TSA has extended the face mask requirement through March 18th, 2022.
COVID-19 Vaccines and Testing in Orlando
According to The Orlando Sentinel, Orange County Health Services will continue to offer COVID-19 testing and vaccination for FREE every day through at least January 31st, 2022 in Barnett Park. The vaccination site is located at 4801 W. Colonial Drive.
That’s a current look at travel restrictions and more due to COVID-19 and the Omicron variant. Keep in mind that these things can all change. Be sure to check back for more updates.