December 17, 2021 12:00pm

Omicron not affecting travel plans, say community leaders

However, most are concerned that the new variant could increase COVID cases, resulting in severe illness or death.

By Nancy Badertscher
Atlanta, GA Correspondent

Georgia’s community leaders aren’t pushing the panic button and canceling travel plans over the emergence of omicron, the potentially fast-spreading variant of the virus that causes COVID-19, a new poll shows

Sixty-seven percent of Georgia Power Poll respondents said they are moving ahead with their existing holiday and other personal travel plans, even as health and government officials scramble to determine what might be ahead with the new variant.

But a majority acknowledge they’re still quite worried about this latest twist and turn in the pandemic that’s now heading into another year. About 39% said they have a sinking feeling that Georgia’s headed for yet another uptick in cases, resulting in severe illness or death. Another 13% described themselves as “significantly concerned” about the new variant.

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The poll was taken of business, community, and political leaders in Atlanta, Athens, Augusta, Columbus, Macon, and Savannah from Dec. 13 to 16, just as health officials in Georgia and around the world were trying to assess the variant’s potential harm.

The omicron variant, first detected in South Africa last month, has been found in 77 countries, including the U.S. It had cropped up in at least 30 states, including Georgia, as of Dec. 16.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution emailed the latest Power Poll to 649 community leaders, of which 111 or 17% responded. This survey does not have the precision of a scientific poll and is meant solely to provide some insight into the thinking of influential leaders.

For months, Power Poll has focused on the story of the century: the pandemic, which is blamed for about 800,000 deaths in the U.S. and about 25,000 in Georgia.

The CDC in Atlanta remains adamant that vaccines are still the best public health measure to protect against COVID-19, slow transmissions, and reduce the likelihood of new variants emerging.

Georgia recently has seen a spike in its long anemic vaccination rate, and Power Poll asked participating community leaders what they think is happening.

A large share – 40% – said they felt that the new omicron variant reports have finally gotten people off the fence. Another 27% attributed the spike to vaccine mandates, while 28% said more people are just deciding on their own to be vaccinated. Only 5% credited the state’s efforts to promote vaccinations.

In a follow-up email, Power Poll participant and former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin said she’s still concerned about the health and safety of her family, neighbors, and friends because of the large number of unvaccinated people in the state.

“I support vax mandates, plus masking, testing, and social distancing across all sectors,” Franklin wrote.

Sidney H. Theus, chief executive officer of American Painting & Renovations, is among those who believe Georgians are deciding on their own about the vaccine and “living their lives as they choose.”

“And that’s the way it should be,” Theus said in an email to Power Poll. “When the weather’s cold, people decide if they want to wear a jacket or not. We don’t need the government dictating when we should wear a jacket or if we should get a vaccine.”

Most of the leaders expressed confidence that the flying public would exercise caution. Sixty percent said travelers now know enough about flying during the pandemic that they’ll “adapt without skipping a beat” if new safety restrictions are put in place. The rest responded with skepticism to the question, saying that still-evolving rules could significantly crimp travel to and from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Kelly Walsh, District 1 Decatur city commissioner, said the new variant creates “a significant wrinkle to our emergence from the pandemic.

“Even if the disease is milder, it will affect more people and cause more hospitalizations which is a problem in a healthcare system already strapped for resources and low on morale,” Walsh wrote in an email. “Vaccine mandates and a combination of strategic incentives and penalties are key to getting total numbers up and reducing community spread.”

About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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