Federal health officials released new guidelines Friday advising that fully vaccinated people can safely travel domestically and internationally, as long as they continue to wear masks, a huge step forward for the beleaguered travel industry and a major sigh of relief for Americans anxious to travel.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that Americans who are fully vaccinated are “at low risk to themselves” for travel, with citing recent research on the "real-world effectiveness" of COVID-19 vaccines, according to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.
"Fully vaccinated" is defined as two weeks after receiving a single-dose vaccine, or receiving a second dose of a two-dose vaccine course.
According to the new guidance:
- For domestic travel: Fully vaccinated people can travel within the United States without the need to get tested for COVID-19 "unless their destination requires it." Individuals do not have to self-quarantine after.
- For international travel: A negative COVID-19 test is not required before leaving, though some destinations may require it. Individuals do not have to self-quarantine upon arriving in the U.S.
Dr. Walensky noted at a COVID-19 briefing Friday that fully vaccinated individuals who travel internationally should still be tested 3-5 days after arriving in the U.S., and should get tested and have a negative test result before returning from an international destination.
The CDC said Americans should continue to follow other public health recommendations, including wearing masks in public, avoiding crowds, and practicing safe social distancing. Masks are still required planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation, the CDC points out.
Dr. Walensky says they will "continue to monitor the evidence and provide updates as we learn more", citing the ever-changing guidelines about COVID-19, and implored Americans, regardless of vaccination status, to continue to follow prevention measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.
The CDC strongly recommended that Americans hold off from traveling internationally until fully vaccinated, and highlighted the "additional risks" posed by international travel, even if fully vaccinated.
"Fully vaccinated travelers are less likely to get and spread COVID-19," the CDC wrote. "However, international travel poses additional risks and even fully vaccinated travelers are at increased risk for getting and possibly spreading new COVID-19 variants."
Despite this guidance, Dr. Walensky issued a warning to Americans: "While we believe that fully vaccinated people can travel at low risk to themselves, CDC is not recommending travel at this time due to the rising number of cases."
"I would advocate against general travel overall," she added.
Citing rising COVID-19 numbers, Dr. Walensky called this a "pivotal moment" for the country and urged Americans to use caution and remain vigilant against the virus.