Summer is here, and our country is finally beginning to reemerge from the confines of quarantine during the pandemic. COVID-19 infection rates are at their lowest point nationwide since March 2020, and as coronavirus travel restrictions are being lifted, many Americans are eager to travel. You may be considering a post-COVID vacation for your family, but is it safe to travel again—nationally or abroad? It’s much safer if you’ve been fully vaccinated for COVID-19. If a member of your family can’t be vaccinated yet, here are the precautions to keep in mind. Here’s everything you need to know before hitting the road.
What are the current CDC travel guidelines for domestic travel?
If you’re wondering if it’s safe to travel right now, you’re not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people who are fully vaccinated can freely travel domestically without COVID testing or quarantining.
The CDC advises unvaccinated travelers to undergo COVID-19 testing both before their trip (test one to three days before the trip) and again (three to five days) after arriving back home. They should also self-monitor for symptoms and quarantine for seven days upon their return. Confirming this, pediatrician Ashanti W. Woods, MD, of Mercy Family Care Physicians in Baltimore, Maryland, suggests, “Unvaccinated individuals may need to quarantine upon their return while awaiting their post-trip test results.”
What are the current CDC travel guidelines for international travel?
When it comes to traveling internationally, the CDC advises this only for the fully vaccinated. It’s unsafe to travel outside of the U.S. with unvaccinated children right now. Still, international travel poses risks even if you and your family have had the COVID-19 vaccine. Be aware of the current situation at your destination. Take the appropriate transmission precautions as you would with domestic travel. Pediatric pulmonologist Kunjana Mavunda, MD, of Kidz Medical Services of South Florida recommends travel destinations where people are cautious. “Try to find activities and travel clubs where you do not have exposure to too many people,” Dr. Mayunda says.
Where can Americans travel right now?
If anyone in your party is unvaccinated, stick with domestic travel; international travel requires both a negative COVID-19 test and sometimes proof of vaccination, depending on the location, Dr. Mavunda says. If you’re traveling with fully vaccinated teens, visit countries with low risk. The CDC maintains current risk-assessment levels for international travel on a scale of 0-4, increasing in severity from undetermined to high risk. Travel to countries with a risk level of 0 (unknown) or 4 (very high) is not advised; vaccination is recommended before journeying to a country with a risk of 1 (low), 2 (moderate), or 3 (high).
Do I have to wear a mask when I travel?
For the unvaccinated, traveling still poses risk, Dr. Woods says. He recommends to minimize exposure, every unvaccinated person over the age of 2 “should wear their masks when in public spaces and practice other mitigation tips” such as social distancing and good hand hygiene.
CDC guidelines state that masks must be worn by all individuals, whether vaccinated or not, when using public transportation such as planes, trains, and buses, and when inside airports and travel stations. Masks are not required in outdoor spaces.
Can you travel after getting the COVID-19 vaccine?
“If you are vaccinated, it is okay to travel,” Dr. Mavunda says. “But even then, we need to take the same precautions [masking, handwashing, and social distancing] because we don’t know whether other people have [been vaccinated].”
If you’re hesitant to get vaccinated, Dr. Mavunda urges, “The vaccines are very safe. Even though they were developed rather quickly, at this point millions of people have gotten the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, and we know that the vaccines are effective. Even with the newly emerging strains (like the Delta strain) that are more infectious, these vaccines are more effective than the original infection.”
Can flying on an airplane increase my risk of getting COVID-19?
Yes. Continue to play it safe. “The three most important things [you can do to protect yourself and your family] are masking, social distancing and handwashing,” Dr. Mavunda says. If you’re visiting relatives within the U.S. and they have already been vaccinated, those precautions aren’t necessary. Yet, any time you’re on public transportation, you still need to be careful.
What are some tips for traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Choose destinations where you have control. “The coronavirus is very smart—it’s mutating within humans, so that’s why we need to be careful,” Dr. Mavunda says. Avoid cruises and indoor clubs; and keep in mind the safest place to be is outdoors because the sun and the breeze dilutes the virus.
“The most important thing to remember is that the viral load dictates what your symptoms will be,” says Dr. Mavunda. “If you get exposed to the virus but it’s just a small load, you have a little ‘whiff’ of the virus, then your immune system should be able to fight it.” If you’re in a crowded indoor area with no masks, your viral load may be higher—which makes it harder for your immune system to fight off.
What precautions should I take after traveling internationally?
When you visit other countries, it’s important to remember that you can’t know for sure what strains are circulating. “When somebody goes overseas, even if they have been vaccinated, I think it’s better to quarantine for a minimum of 7-10 days after returning, so that in case there is a new strain out there, they don’t bring it back home,” says Dr. Mavunda.
So, is it safe to travel right now? The answer is, yes, but it’s important to remember that COVID-19 isn’t gone—even though things are opening back up in the U.S. The fully vaccinated have more leeway in choosing their destination. If you or your kids haven’t had the vaccine, continue to exercise caution to minimize your family’s infection risk. Plan carefully, follow the CDC’s travel guidelines, and enjoy that much needed family vacation.