A runway at Denver International Airport. (flydenver.com)
WASHINGTON — Fully vaccinated individuals can travel at low risk to themselves, and do not need to get a COVID-19 test or quarantine after traveling within the U.S., federal health officials said Friday as they unveiled updated travel guidelines.
The new guidelines offer the first official guidance to Americans who are at least two weeks past receiving their final dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and want to visit family and friends elsewhere in the U.S.
Those who do travel are urged to continue taking precautions: wearing a mask, avoiding crowds, socially distancing, and washing hands frequently.
Fully vaccinated people seeking to travel internationally may still need to have a negative COVID-19 test to enter their destination. They should have a negative COVID-19 test result before they board a flight home to the United States, and should take another test three to five days after returning, according to the CDC.
But those traveling abroad won’t need to quarantine upon return unless their state requires doing so.
The new travel guidance expands upon an initial set of guidance that the CDC released last month, outlining recommendations for how vaccinated individuals should socialize with those who are and are not vaccinated.
Those initial recommendations sidestepped questions about traveling. And even as federal officials released the new guidelines, they also urged Americans to continue refraining from any travel that is not essential.
“While we believe that fully vaccinated people can travel at low risk to themselves, the CDC is not recommending travel at this time due to the rising number of cases,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC’s director, told reporters Friday.
According to CDC tracking data, 30% of Americans have received at least one dose of one of the three authorized COVID-19 vaccines, and 17% have been fully vaccinated.
But the vaccination effort has been racing to outpace a rise in the daily rate of coronavirus infections. After falling to an average daily rate of 40,000 new cases in mid-March, that number has been going up, to 75,000 new cases reported Thursday.
Earlier this week, Walensky described a sense of “impending doom” as she watched those numbers grow and new variants of the virus pop up across the country.
“We know that travel was up in the month of March more so than it had been since the beginning of this pandemic. We know that right now we have a surging number of cases,” Walensky said, adding that the CDC guidance “is silent on recommending or not recommending fully vaccinated people travel — our guidance speaks to the safety of doing so.”
Recently released studies have suggested that fully vaccinated people are unlikely to spread the virus, a scenario that scientists have said for months is likely to be true, but had lacked enough data on the brand-new vaccine to say definitively.
Even before the new CDC guidelines, air travel had begun to pick up again. Data from the Transportation Security Administration has shown a rising number of travelers passing through airports.
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