Americans fully vaccinated against Covid-19 can travel safely domestically and abroad as long as they take basic precautions like wearing masks, federal health officials announced on Friday, a long-awaited change from the government’s dire warnings who have kept many millions at home for the past year.
Announcing the change at a press conference at the White House, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emphasized their preference for people not to travel. However, growing evidence of the real effectiveness of vaccines given to more than 100 million Americans suggested that vaccinated people could do so “at little risk to themselves.”
The change in the official stance of the CDC comes at a moment of hope and danger in the pandemic. The pace of vaccination has accelerated rapidly across the country and the number of deaths has decreased.
However, in many states, cases are increasing significantly as new variants of the coronavirus spread across the country. Only last Monday, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the CDC director, facing a possible fourth wave if states and cities continue to relax public health restrictions, telling reporters that she feels “imminent doom”.
Some public health experts were surprised by the announcement on Friday and expressed concern that the government is sending confusing signals to the public.
“It’s a mixture of ‘please don’t travel’ and at the same time it makes it easier for a subset of people to travel,” said Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, Professor of Epidemiology and Medicine at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health. “I think it’s very confusing and contradicts the message we heard earlier this week: ‘stay seated’, ‘wait’, ‘be patient’. And that worries me. Public health messaging has to be very clear, very consistent, and very simple. “
Dr. Walensky himself appeared to acknowledge the apparent mixed message during Friday’s press conference. “Science shows us that full vaccination allows you to do more things safely, and it is important that we include this guide on rising cases as well, ”she said.
The travel industry welcomed the new guidelines in hopes that it could mark the start of a turnaround for airlines, hotels and destinations that have suffered increasing losses for more than a year.
“When travel comes back, US jobs come back,” Roger Dow, executive director of the US Travel Association, an industry group, said in a statement.
Federal officials insisted that people who were not fully vaccinated should not travel at all, a position widely supported by public health experts.
April 1, 2021, 11:02 p.m. ET
“If you are fully vaccinated you can travel again. If not, there is still a lot of virus circulating and it is still a risky endeavor. You should defer until you are vaccinated or the situation improves,” said Caitlin Rivers, epidemiologist and assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
If unvaccinated people need to travel, the CDC recommends testing them for coronavirus infections one to three days before they travel and again three to five days after they travel. They should quarantine themselves for seven days if they are tested and ten days if they are not tested after a trip, the agency said.
People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or two weeks after receiving the second dose of the Pfizer BioNTech or Moderna shot. Around 58 million people in the US, 22 percent of the adult population, have been fully vaccinated, according to the latest figures from the CDC
Scientists are still not sure whether vaccinated people can even briefly get infected and spread the virus to others. A recent CDC study suggested that such cases might be rare, but until that issue is resolved, many public health officials feel it is unwise to tell vaccinated Americans to just do what they want. They say it is important that all people vaccinated continue to wear masks, practice social distancing, and take other precautions.
Under new CDC guidelines, fully vaccinated Americans traveling domestically are not required to be tested for the coronavirus or follow quarantine procedures at destination or upon their return. When traveling abroad, they only need to have a coronavirus test or quarantine if the country they are traveling to requires.
However, the guidelines state that they must have a negative coronavirus test before returning to the United States and that they should be retested three to five days after they return.
The recommendation is based on the idea that vaccinated people can still be infected with the virus. The CDC also noted the lack of vaccine supplies in other countries and concerns about the possible introduction and spread of new variants of the virus, which are more common overseas.
Most states have shortened their deadlines for opening vaccinations to all adults as the pace of vaccination has increased across the country. As of Friday, an average of nearly three million shots a day were being administered, according to the CDC
The new advice complements the CDC recommendations issued in early March that fully vaccinated individuals can gather in small groups in private settings without masks or social distancing and visit unvaccinated individuals from a single household as long as they are at low risk of developing serious illness if with infected by the virus.
Travel has already increased nationwide as the weather warms and Americans tire of pandemic restrictions. Last Sunday was the busiest day at domestic airports since the pandemic began. According to the Transportation Security Administration, nearly 1.6 million people passed security checks at American airports.
But industry concerns are far from over. The pandemic has also shown companies large and small that their employees can often work remotely as productively as in face-to-face meetings. As a result, the aviation and hospitality industries expect it will be years before lucrative business travel bounces back to pre-epidemic levels and leaves a gaping hole in revenue.
And while vacation travel in the US may be steadily recovering, airlines believe it will take until 2023 or 2024 for passenger numbers to hit 2019 levels, according to Airlines for America, an industry group. The industry lost more than $ 35 billion in the past year and continues to lose tens of millions of dollars every day, the group said.
Many countries, including those in the European Union, are still preventing most Americans from coming. Some are starting to make exceptions for those who are vaccinated. Starting March 26, Americans who can show proof of vaccination will be able to visit Iceland and avoid restrictions like testing and quarantine, according to the country’s government
The CDC also issued more detailed technical instructions for cruise lines on Thursday, urging them to take action to develop vaccination strategies and make plans for routine crew tests and daily reporting of Covid-19 cases before simulating test runs of You can travel with volunteers before accepting real passengers. The CDC guidelines recognize that cruises “always present some risk of spreading Covid-19”.
Some destinations and cruise lines already require travelers to be fully vaccinated. Royal Caribbean cruise line requires passengers and crew members 18 and over to be vaccinated to board their ships, as does Virgin Voyages, Crystal Cruises, and others.
Currently, airlines do not require vaccinations to travel. But the idea has been talked about a lot in the industry.
Niraj Chokshi contributed to the coverage.