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Returning to school, work, and travel amid COVID surge | What to know

As COVID-19 cases rise again, Americans who are hesitant to return to work or school have less federal protection, but some options remain.

ATLANTA — With coronavirus cases spiking once again, many Americans have questions about the post-holiday return to work and school.

Luckily, attorney Jessica Cino explained many of the early pandemic rules and laws no longer apply.

"A lot of what was in place earlier were short term fixes that expired," she said.

Cino also added that employees hesitant to return to work have less federal protection, but some options remain.

“You can use sick leave, you can use vacation leave, you have 12 weeks entitled to you under the Family Medical Leave Act," she said. "But there's no requirement that the employer keeps your job open for you.”

Cino said people suffering from long haul COVID symptoms might have a case for employment protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but such a case would have to go through the courts.

However, while employers are encouraged to allow remote work, they are not obligated to make that accommodation. The same goes for schools.

"A school is not required to provide remote learning at this point," Chino said.

But, parents do have options.

“A parent can certainly keep a child home if they don't believe that the school environment is safe," Chino said.

You can also switch to home schooling which does have virtual options.

Many Americans are also wondering how the COVID-19 case surge will impact their travel plans.

Willis Orlando, a flight tracking expert with Scott's Cheap Flights, said airlines are scrambling to recover and retain customer loyalty.

"Airlines have repeatedly, in one way or the other, dropped the ball," he said. "There's absolutely low confidence in the airlines right now. We've seen some airlines aggressively move to get out ahead of their competitors and put these protections back to kind of inspire public confidence again."

That means record low prices and the return of flexible ticketing.

"For example, right now, both Delta and United have reintroduced that wave change fee policy for tickets," said Orlando. "Both Delta and United have also introduced text message options for reaching customer service via their apps. Those didn't exist pre-pandemic."

The experts also predict it’s unlikely we’ll see a full travel ban again.

"We think that Americans who are vaccinated, who are willing to take a test will be able to visit most of the world," Orlando said. "Countries may not continue to open up further, but we're not seeing a whole lot of scaling back."