Is Zika Still A Problem In Our State?

There’s no doubt about it: Zika is on the retreat in the Americas.

In Brazil, cases are down by 95 percent from last year. Across the Caribbean, outbreaks have subsided. And in Florida, the virus seems to have gone into hiding. Health officials haven’t investigated a new Zika case for more than 45 days in Miami-Dade County.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lifted the last travel warning for southern Florida. The agency is no longer recommending that pregnant women avoid the region.

“That’s really exciting news,” says Dr. Christine Curry, an OB-GYN at the University of Miami and Jackson Memorial Hospital. “Everybody has sort of exhaled.”

But the threat to pregnant women, whether residents or travelers, isn’t over — not in the least — Curry says, neither in Florida nor abroad.

So what should pregnant women and their families, or women who are trying to get pregnant, do? Let’s start with Florida. Then we’ll swing back to the international question at the end.

Living or traveling in South Florida

“We can’t go back to the days before Zika, where you just walked around without thinking about bug spray or the clothes you’re wearing,” Curry says. “People still need to practice good mosquito-bite prevention when they’re living in South Florida or traveling there.”

The CDC outlines the precautions needed in Miami-Dade County and other areas of the U.S. where Zika has circulated, such as Brownsville, Texas.

These precautions are most important for pregnant women, those trying to get pregnant and their mates. For example:

  • Expectant couples should continue to use condoms “every time they have sex (including vaginal, anal, and oral sex),” the CDC writes, because the Zika virus can stay in the semen of an infected man for months.
  • Pregnant women should continue to get tested for Zika up to eight weeks after the travel ban has been lifted for a region — which would be until about August of 2017 for South Florida.

Such precautions are important, Curry says, for several reasons.

First, even when it looks like Zika has “disappeared,” Curry says, it could still be circulating. About 80 percent people who are infected with the virus don’t have any symptoms at all.

And if the virus is merely lurking below detectable levels, Zika cases could start cropping up again at any moment. Last summer, Zika likely circulated in Florida for months before it was detected by health officials, a recent study found.

So if you live in South Florida, or are headed there this summer, pack the DEET, cover clothes in permethrin and be on the lookout for skeeters.

Traveling overseas

Although Zika cases have dropped across the Caribbean and Latin America, the CDC’s travel recommendations haven’t changed. Pregnant women should not travel to places where Zika is circulating. If a spouse travels to one of these areas, the couple should use condoms for at least six months.

Couples trying to get pregnant should also not travel to these regions. If they must, the CDC recommends waiting at least six months before trying to conceive after a man returns from a country with Zika and waiting at least eight weeks after a woman returns.

Fetal medicine expert Dr. Neil Silverman worries that some doctors are forgetting to give their patients these travel warnings.

“We’ve gotten calls at our practice from women who have traveled to areas where’s there’s clearly active transmission of Zika,” says Silverman, an OB-GYN at the Center for Fetal Medicine in Los Angeles.

“Either their doctors have essentially decided the risk is over or the woman forgot to ask. Then they come back home and realize that there was a risk.”

Even if a country has reported only a few cases — or hasn’t had a case in months — Silverman says the recommendations are the same.

Take for instance, India, which reported its first official cases in May. There were only three cases recorded, across the entire country. But the virus has likely been circulating in India for decades, studies show. And pregnant women should avoid travel there, Silverman says.

For the purpose of a traveler, there’s not a huge distinction between whether a country has a large number of new cases occurring or whether there’s sort of a background, long-standing risk,” he says.

Places with this sort of background risk include large parts of Southeast Asia and Africa.

So if you’re pregnant or “trying,” check out the CDC’s Zika map before booking a plane ticket, and avoid all the areas that are purple on the map.

“With everything else going on in the country and in the world, Zika has taken a little bit of a backseat in the news cycle,” Silverman says. “But it’s still a big concern.”

Travel: This Hotel Shapes Your Vacation Around Your Horoscope

“Your glow is bound to attract all sorts of wonderful things and delicious people. You’re lit up from within right now.” If I were to design a vacation out of today’s horoscope, I’d probably stop by the Sydney Opera House and then eat my friend Josie before I spontaneously combust—probably due to the Australian heat.

A new, boutique hotel in Sydney, Australia is shaping vacations just like that, astrologically. It’s called The Ultimo, and it’s the world’s first astrology-themed hotel. From the rooms equipped with astrological literature, artwork and even slippers to the unique city guides curated to your sign, The Ultimo aligns your vacation with the zodiac.

Because it’s Gemini season, here’s how the hotel recommends a Gemini spend their Sydney trip. “Born with the need to communicate, Gemini is the sign of the social butterfly.” Following The Ultimo “Explorology” guide, Gemini vacationers should, “Belt out some tunes at Dynasty Karaoke right next door to The Ultimo; head to Oxford Street and lose yourself at some of Sydney’s best bookstores, Berkelouw Books; and cure your curiosity and take a Captain Cook cruise around Sydney Harbour.”For food, they should consider: The Local Mbassy, a 1920’s boiler-room-inspired cafe; Golden Century for some seafood; and the underground bar Palmer & Co.

This entire analysis is curated by the hotel’s astrologer Damian Rocks, founder of the organization Stars Like You and a resident of Australia’s morning talk show circuit.

Astrology-packaged rooms start at $229 per night, which is roughly the price of an hour consultation with Damian. So if you’re feeling on edge or in the midst of an existential crisis, The Ultimo might provide some direction … now the only problem is reaching Australia.

Universal Orlando Resort’s Opening Volcano Bay Tomorrow

Universal Orlando Resort is opening its newest park, Volcano Bay, on May 25. The park’s intention is to create a fun environment that’s also laid-back by nixing the long line wait, a traditional and unpleasant part of every theme park experience.

Universal plans to achieve this by giving guests “TapuTapu” wristbands, which will hold their place in line virtually while they relax by the parks pools and beaches. Rafts will also automatically be delivered to tops of the slides (i.e. no dragging a massive raft uphill for you).

The park will boast a trap-door waterslide that drops through a 200-foot man-made mountain and an aqua coaster with 70-degree drops. But its star feature is the Krakatau aqua coaster, a volcano at the center of the park that erupts waterfalls during the day and lava at night.

The park’s beach-vacation atmosphere is enhanced with rentable cabanas, tropical cocktails and island-inspired cuisine (which includes coconut shrimp and Jerk-spiced fish). Volcano Bay intends to focus on creating an atmosphere for family fun, but not at the expense of relaxation, which is bound to be appreciated by kids and adults alike.

Travel: You Can Camp Out in These Restored Fire Lookouts

High above the forests across America there are special lookout towers that were constructed by the Civil Conservation Corps after the Great Fire of 1910 as an early warning system in an age before radios, aircraft and GPS. The lookouts are no longer used for their original purposes, but a few have been restored and maintained to serve as respites among the nature they were originally built to protect. Heather and Andrew Pogue were brave enough to venture up a trail in Washington on their way to the Park Butte Lookout, where they slept overnight and documented the entire journey. The views from the 360-degree tower (it was a “lookout,” after all) captured by the camera are breathtaking in every direction… especially when paired together with their editorial coverage. Maintained by the Skagit Alpine Club, the Park Butte Lookout is available on a first come, first service basis with a donation area to help support the cause.

Travel: How to Travel Across the USA by Train for Just $213

In December 2011, adventure traveler / entrepreneur Derek Low spent four days traveling across the USA by train for just $213. The 3,397-mile journey took him across 11 states and through 4 time zones along with allowing him to see both the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean. Low documented the entire epic trip on his site, and we highly recommend you check it out here. If you’re interested in planning a similar trip of your own, Low started a travel planning service that will help you book all your tickets for a small service fee of $49. It’s still going to be cheaper than airfare, and this is a great way to see to the country.

Royal Caribbean Will Pay You to Quit Your Job, Travel The World and Take Instagrams

Have you ever spent the day scouring your city for that perfect shot, when the sky is a dreamy pink and the setting sun bounces off the glowing skyscrapers in just the right way? Then, after a days worth of work and only a few dozen likes to show for it, you think to yourself “Damn. If only had gotten paid for that.” If so, then put down your smartphone, and listen up.​

Royal Caribbean is looking to hire a master Instagrammer for a paid summer “intern-ship,” for which you’ll be required to snap and post eye-popping shots from a three-month trip around the world. Okay, now that you’ve regained consciousness, here’s how it works:

If you’re over 21 and have “extensive knowledge of all 23 filters,” you can earn £3,000 (almost $3,700) as an amateur photographer on three cruise ships that’ll take you all over the globe—for free. All you have to do is position yourself as a “hybrid between a photographer, documentary maker and a storyteller” to land the summer job of your dreams.

If the panel of travel experts happens to choose you, you’ll be tasked with posting three photos on Instagram each day; one of a breathtaking view, one of an awesome person found on board, and one of a mind-blowing experience. If that sounds like something you’d be into, just post your most incredible travel photos from now until January 31 and include @RoyalCaribbeanUK and #ExtraordinaryExplorer in the caption. 

Just make sure you send us a postcard. 

Disney’s Magic Kingdom Adds Alcohol to Menus

Have you dreamt of sipping a glass of wine or drinking a chilled beer while enjoying Disney magic? Well, your dream is coming true. Beginning Dec. 23, Disney’s Magic Kingdom is now expanding their alcohol offerings to four more restaurants.

In 2012, the Be Our Guest Restaurant became the first establishment to serve alcohol. Now wine and beer will be offered at Tony’s Town Square Restaurant, Liberty Tree Tavern, Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen and Cinderella’s Royal Table.

Guests can expect each beverage to coincide with the Disney magic and their respective meal. For example, Tony’s will offer Italian wines and beers and Cinderella’s Royal Table will serve champagne and sparkling wine.

The wine and beer will only be served during lunch and dinner. To-go beverages and standalone bars will not be an option. Walt Disney apparently had strict rules against booze in his park, but due to popular demand by guests, the Magic Kingdom is hoping to grant some holiday wishes.

This Is the Best Week to Book Your Thanksgiving Airfare

If you’re flying home for Thanksgiving, now’s probably the best time to buy your ticket.

According to a report by Skyscanner, the cheapest flights for the Thanksgiving holiday can be
found this week, from October 31 to November 4. The study found that flights during the week of Halloween were 7.73 percent cheaper than those at any other time before Thanksgiving weekend.

To gather the data, Skyscanner analyzed flight rates from last year’s Thanksgiving to help project the dates at which airfare will be at its lowest. The result: Four weeks before the holiday seems to be the sweet spot.

Those booking should know that there’s no such thing as truly cheap days to fly over Thanksgiving, but thanks to information from FareCompare, these itineraries can save some

– $367 – Thursday to Friday (Nov. 24-25)
– $395 – Thursday to Tuesday (Nov. 24-29)
– $406 – Tuesday to Friday (Nov. 22-25)
– $420 – Monday to Friday (Nov. 21-25)
– $425 – Tuesday to Tuesday (Nov. 22-29)

Win a Night Inside a Taco Bell

Not since that night in college when we smoked way too much have we thought about spending a night inside a Taco Bell. Then, while scouring Airbnb for unique stays, the thought crossed our minds again, when we came across this listing. Taco Bell wants to give you a SteakCation. One lucky winner along with three of their friends will travel to Ontario for an overnighter in a Taco Bell. But fear not! You won’t be sleeping on freshly mopped floors or in booths, Taco Bell has decked out the location with bunk beds, a big screen, video games, and plenty of their new Steak Doubledillas to keep you happy. Plus, a Taco Bell Butler will make sure you’re taken care of during your stay. The only requirement is that you Live Más.


Travel: Airbnb Asks Hosts to Be Less Racist

It appears that the short-term rental company Airbnb has heard African Americans’ complaints about discrimination in their services, grievances aired publicly over Twitter and in media outlets including The Root. On Thursday, Airbnb announced new guidelines for their members on how to reduce racial biases that leave African Americans with fewer opportunities to enjoy the service.

Wrote Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky in a letter to his members Thursday:

Discrimination is the opposite of belonging, and its existence on our platform jeopardizes this core mission. Bias and discrimination have no place on Airbnb, and we have zero tolerance for them. Unfortunately, we have been slow to address these problems, and for this I am sorry. I take responsibility for any pain or frustration this has caused members of our community. We will not only make this right; we will work to set an example that other companies can follow.

The company issued a 32-page report that details the new changes. Its lead author is Laura Murphy, a former American Civil Liberties Union attorney, who Airbnb called in for a diagnostic check of its policies. Other civil rights heavy-hitters, including former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Wade Henderson, also contributed to the report. The new Airbnb rules boil down to four major changes the company is asking its members to abide by to root out racial discrimination in Airbnb rentals:

  • Requiring all Airbnb hosts to sign a “Airbnb Community Commitment,” which is described in Chesky’s letter as “a stronger, more detailed nondiscrimination policy.” It pledges that all members are to be treated “with respect, and without judgment or bias,” regardless of their race, religion, sex, or gender.  
  • Instituting a new “Open Doors” policy that obligates Airbnb to accommodate any guest who reports discrimination—past, present, or future. Airbnb has pledged to find  “a similar place to stay if one is available on Airbnb, or … an alternative accommodation elsewhere” for anyone filing such a complaint.
  • Expanding the Airbnb option called “Instant Book,” which makes a host’s home available immediately upon booking, without the host having to approve the guest ahead of time.
  • Making an anti-bias training available to Airbnb members, with Airbnb publicly acknowledging those who chose to complete the course.

The “Open Doors” policy seems a bit superficial in that it doesn’t seem to do much to actually correct the racism: There is no stated penalty for those who actually discriminate, nor anything that disincentivizes discrimination to begin with. The company offers to find the offended guests alternative accommodations, but those guests would end up in a place that was not their preferred choice anyway.

The “Instant Book” and anti-bias trainings sound like promising steps, but it will be interesting to see how many members actually volunteer for them. Other steps mentioned in the report, like reducing the use of members’ photos in the Airbnb booking function could also offer some reassurance.

These are important first steps, but there is likely more needed to thoroughly weed out the “widespread discrimination against African-American guests,” that Harvard researchers found in Airbnb services back in January.

“There are still additional factors at play here and policies to establish in the new system,” says Sherrell Dorsey, founder of the daily black tech newsletter ThePLUG, who has written about Airbnb alternatives for African Americans. “For instance, if customers are able to instantly book a place without the need for host approval, what happens to that customer if they arrive on someone’s doorstep who refuses to let them in or worse? I’d like to understand more of the thinking behind the long game and what the company is doing to ensure safety for all of their users.”

Part of the impetus for this new initiative may be that Airbnb is losing customers to new home-sharing services like Innclusive, Noirbnb, and Cozy Oasis, which cater directly to people of color for short-term rental services. Chesky admits in his letter that his company “has been slow on this issue” of rental discrimination, but some African Americans aren’t waiting around for Airbnb to figure it out. As with most things, black leisure is not dependent upon white approval.