People who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can travel within the United States and abroad as long as they continue to take precautions like wearing a mask, according to new guidance released Friday by the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, the latest advice — certainly welcome news for people who have been kept apart from their loved ones amid the pandemic — was couched with caution that bordered on contradiction.
“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,” agency director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a briefing Friday.
Such seemingly conflicting advice by health officials can be frustrating and whiplash-inducing as there is reason for both hope, as growing numbers of Americans receive their vaccinations, and rising fear, as the number of coronavirus cases increases across the country.
“On the one hand, we are telling you we are worried about rising cases, to wear a mask and to avoid travel. Yet, on the other hand, we are saying that if you are vaccinated, evolving data suggests that traveling is likely lower risk,” Walensky acknowledged.
“The science shows us that getting fully vaccinated allows you to do more things safely, and it’s important for us to provide that guidance, even in the context of rising cases,” she said. “At the same time, we must balance this guidance with the fact that most Americans are not yet fully vaccinated, which is likely contributing to our rising cases. And that means we have to continue to reinforce messages about the critical importance of COVID-19 prevention measures.”
The agency in its updated guidance officially “recommends delaying travel until you are fully vaccinated, because travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19.”
But Walensky said she still “would advocate against general travel overall.”
“Our guidance is silent on recommending or not recommending fully vaccinated people travel,” she said.
Per the new CDC guidelines, fully vaccinated people who are traveling internationally do not need to be tested for COVID-19 before leaving the United States unless their destination requires them to be, and they do not need to self-quarantine upon arriving in the country, federal health officials said. However, all air passengers coming into the U.S. must have a negative coronavirus test result from no more than three days before their travel date.
The CDC also recommends that people get tested three to five days after travel.
Domestic travelers who are fully vaccinated — meaning two weeks have passed since their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine or their one and only Johnson & Johnson shot — do not need to self-quarantine upon arriving at their destination and “do not need to get tested before or after travel unless their destination requires it,” according to the CDC.
That could come into play in California, where the state maintains that “nonessential travelers from other states or countries, regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status, are strongly discouraged.”
Though California on Thursday lifted its advisory that asked leisure travelers to stay within 120 miles of home, health officials still recommend that all travelers get tested one to three days before starting their journeys; and that nonessential travelers get tested three to five days upon arrival into California, as well as self-quarantine for a full seven days after travel, even if their test is negative.
The state travel advisory also says nonessential travelers who don’t get tested should self-quarantine for 10 days after travel.
The California Department of Public Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the new CDC guidelines and how, or if, they will affect the state’s travel advisory.
Health officials have long warned against unnecessary or recreational travel, saying such journeys could fuel a new coronavirus surge.
As Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer put it earlier this week, “every time we’ve had a lot of travelers here … we’ve had problems.”
“We don’t even have to look at what’s going on on the East Coast; we can just look at what went on here over Thanksgiving and the winter holidays to know we have problems when lots of people are traveling,” she said.
While California has, to this point, escaped the kind of spikes that are striking other states, officials warn that the coronavirus neither knows nor respects mapped-out boundaries. What happens in, say, New York could have dramatic ripple effects even on the other end of the country.
Over the last week, California has reported an average of 2,549 new COVID-19 cases per day, a more than 10% decrease from two weeks ago, according to data compiled by The Times.
CDC figures show that the state’s latest seven-day case rate per 100,000 people, 43.9, is the third-lowest among all states and well below the national rate of 134.4.
By comparison, the highest recent rates were recorded in Michigan, with 411.1 cases per 100,000 people; and New Jersey, 366.4.
Over the same time period, the comparable rates were 353.6 in New York City; 256.7 in the rest of New York state; 222.7 in Pennsylvania; 168.4 in Florida, and 76.5 in Texas.
At the federal level, there is optimism that the nation will have sufficient COVID-19 vaccine supply to accommodate all willing adults by later in the spring.
How many more Americans will become infected, require hospitalization or die from the disease in the months prior to widespread immunization is an open question, however — and one officials said should be a clarion call for everyone to remain vigilant.
“This disease is not taking Easter weekend off. This disease is not taking spring break off,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday during a news conference in San Diego. “This disease is as deadly as it’s ever been.”
But with the continued rollout of vaccines, officials have expressed hope that the months ahead will see the final turning point in the pandemic.
To date, 32% of Californians — and 30.7% of all Americans — have received at least one vaccine dose, CDC data show.
Providers throughout California have administered almost 19 million total doses.