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Holiday travelers at PDX feel prepared and safe amid omicron uncertainty

According to AAA, more than 109 million Americans will travel for Christmas and New Year, a 34% increase over last year.

PORTLAND, Ore. — AAA estimates more than 109 million Americans will travel for this Christmas and New Year, despite uncertainty over the impact of the omicron coronavirus variant.

Diana Browning is a nurse who lives in Portland. On Sunday, she and her daughters Opal and Lila departed Portland International Airport to visit family in Utah.

"I'm really excited because we haven't seen our cousins in a bit," fifth grader Opal said.

"We spent a year and a half away from my dad who had cancer," Diana added.

The family stayed apart to protect Diana's father from COVID-19 — until now.

"We just got our boosters, and these kiddos were lucky enough to get their vaccinations," Diana explained.

Other travelers who spoke with KGW Sunday expressed similar relief this year compared to last.

"Back to normal life," one said.

Precautions remain front and center, with masks, distancing and an emphasis on vaccinations and booster shots.

The highly contagious omicron variant has appeared in nearly every state as of this weekend, including Oregon and Washington. Although early research does not show yet if this variant makes people more or less sick than others, experts are worried about the possible impact of a new spike in cases from the holidays.

"Extraordinary capability of spreading," Dr. Anthony Fauci said of the omicron variant on Meet the Press.

RELATED: Omicron found in at least 89 countries with cases growing fast, WHO confirms

"It's going to find those in our community who are still vulnerable — the 40% who are not fully vaccinated," infectious disease physician Dr. Nahid Bhadelia said on the Today Show.

Those unvaccinated populations and people with other underlying conditions are the most at risk.

"The hospitals are already strained compared to last year," Bhadelia said.

"We have so many people in this country eligible to be vaccinated who have not yet been vaccinated," Fauci said.

However, Fauci said those who are vaccinated, and especially those who have received booster shots, should feel safe to travel this season.

For groups at PDX who are now able to reunite with family, vaccines and advances in COVID prevention make a world of difference over last year.

"First time being together since COVID," one traveler said.

"Just taking the right precautions and still being able to have that time with family and friends is important," another added.

"We have to live our lives, but carefully," Diana said.

Oregon's indoor mask mandate remains in effect, and the Biden administration's federal mask mandate is now extended to mid-March.

The federal mandate applies to people traveling by bus, train, airplane and any other form of public transportation.

RELATED: A look at the new all-wood roof that will come to PDX main terminal in 2022

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