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CDC releases updated COVID-19 travel guidance

The new guidance eliminates some previous testing and quarantine recommendations

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Photo (c) gilaxia - Getty Images
In updated guidance issued Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said fully vaccinated people can travel at low risk to themselves as long as they practice the usual COVID-19 precautions. 

The updated guidance eliminates some of the agency’s previous testing and quarantine recommendations. Health officials said the new guidance is based on the latest evidence, science, and the current state of the pandemic. 

“Fully vaccinated people can travel within the United States and COVID-19 testing or post-travel self-quarantine are not required as long as they continue to take COVID-19 precautions while traveling – wearing a mask, avoiding crowds, socially distancing, and washing hands frequently,” the CDC said. 

The agency noted that a person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after they have received the last recommended dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Right now, approximately 20 percent of the adult population in the U.S. is vaccinated. 

International travel

Fully vaccinated people don't need a COVID-19 test before traveling internationally (unless their destination requires one). They also don’t need to self-quarantine upon returning to the U.S. (unless their state or local jurisdiction requires it). 

Due to the emergence of new COVID-19 variants and differences in vaccine coverage around the world, the CDC says fully vaccinated people should still have a negative COVID-19 test result before they board a flight to the United States. Travelers should also get a COVID-19 test 3 to 5 days after returning from international travel. 

Does not apply to unvaccinated people

People who haven’t gotten a vaccine are advised to continue following the agency’s existing guidance. For unvaccinated travelers, the CDC recommends: 

  • Getting tested 1-3 days before domestic travel and again 3-5 days after travel;

  • Staying home and self-quarantining for 7 days after travel, or 10 days if they don’t get tested at the conclusion of travel; and

  • Avoiding non-essential domestic travel altogether.

At a press conference on Friday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said she still discourages Americans -- especially those who are unvaccinated -- from traveling for nonessential reasons. Walensky said recently that rising case numbers suggest another surge may be on the way, meaning Americans should hold off “a little while longer” before jumping back into their pre-pandemic lives.

"We haven't changed our guidance for nonessential travel at all. We are not recommending travel at this time, especially for unvaccinated people," Walensky said. “With millions of Americans getting vaccinated every day, it is important to update the public on the latest science about what fully vaccinated people can do safely, now including guidance on safe travel.”

Walensky said Americans are still encouraged to get vaccinated as soon as they have the opportunity so that we can all “begin to safely take steps back to our everyday lives.” 

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