Americans who have been fully vaccinated may safely begin traveling again, according to new guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The guidance says "fully vaccinated travelers are less likely to get and spread ."
"People who are fully vaccinated with an FDA-authorized vaccine can travel safely within the United States," the CDC site says. It goes on to say that travelers who are fully vaccinated don't need to be tested before or after they travel unless required to do so by their destination. They also do not need to self-quarantine.
"For example, fully vaccinated grandparents can fly to visit their healthy grandkids without getting a COVID-19 test, or self quarantining, provided they follow the other recommended prevention measures," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a White House briefing on Friday.
The new guidance urges Americans to delay international travel until they are fully vaccinated, and Walensky said fully vaccinated people who are traveling internationally should still be tested three to five days after they arrive in the U.S. on an international flight.
She noted that the CDC continues to advise that "all travelers, regardless of vaccination status, should continue to wear masks on planes buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation, while traveling." The CDC also urges travelers to maintain social distancing and wash hands "often" or use hand sanitizer.
The updates mark the first major revisions to the CDC's guidance for since they were first announced last month, a sign of hope for the coming return to more normal life heralded by widespread immunity.
For now, though, Walensky maintained that "CDC is not recommending travel at this time due to the" in the U.S.
"I want to acknowledge today that providing guidance in the midst of a changing pandemic, and its changing science, is complex. 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," she said.
After a months-long decline in cases around the country following the winter holidays, the spread of COVID-19 has picked up once again around the country. Four in 10 counties in the U.S. are now in the agency's "red zone" indicating high community transmission.
The CDC has also warned of highly-transmissible variants which often spread through travel. The B.1.1.7 strain, first identified in the United Kingdom, now is "predominant" across a broad swath of the U.S. from New York to Texas, a CDC spokesperson said Friday.
"In terms of travel, here's what we know: Every time that there's a surge in travel, we have a surge in cases in this country," Walensky had said last month when asked why the agency had yet not loosened its recommendations for fully vaccinated travelers. "We know that many of our variants have emerged from international places, and we know that the travel corridor is a place where people are mixing a lot."
A week ago, Walensky said she had awarning that the number of infections, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 were all rising.
Asked whether she still had that feeling, Walensky replied, "I still continue to worry that with 80% of the population unvaccinated that we have a lot of work to do to control this pandemic."
At Friday's press briefing, federal health officials pointed to promising real-world evidence suggesting the three COVID-19 vaccines currently allowed for use in the United States — from Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson — appear to remain highly effective, despite the worrisome new strains.
"So the bottom-line message is that vaccines work very well in the real-world setting. They work against variants, although we need further data to confirm that they are durable for at least six months, and they work in adolescents," Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden's chief medical adviser, told reporters.
"Very, very good reason for everyone to get vaccinated as soon as it becomes available to you," Fauci added.