: CDC offers travel advice to vaccinated Americans — but stops short of saying it’s OK to get on a plane

United States

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday set out new travel recommendations for people who are fully vaccinated, but it stopped short of recommending that Americans start booking flights or making summer vacation plans.

“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,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Friday during a White House press briefing.

The new guidance outlines a series of new recommendations that the fully immunized can take when traveling domestically or internationally. The CDC defines being fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving Johnson & Johnson’s JNJ, -0.92% single-dose shot or the second dose of the Moderna Inc. MRNA, +1.22% or Pfizer Inc. PFE, +0.19% vaccines.

Domestic travelers are not required to get tested or quarantine if they are vaccinated, the CDC noted in the new guidelines. Fully-vaccinated international travelers do not need to self-quarantine upon returning to the U.S., but they are still required to have a negative COVID-19 test before boarding a flight to the U.S. and to get another test within three to five days after returning.

However, much of the CDC’s new travel guidance defers to state or local rules about COVID-19 testing and quarantining or the rules set out by the few countries that allow Americans to visit right now.

Our guidance is silent on recommending or not recommending fully vaccinated people travel.

— CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky

The CDC also cautioned that vaccinated Americans should still take precautions while traveling, including wearing face masks and social distancing. Their travel guidance for unvaccinated people remains the same.

On Friday, the CDC also provided updated instructions for cruise lines regarding COVID-19 testing and embarking procedures. Cruise lines have yet to resume operations out of American ports since the CDC issued a “conditional sailing order” in October, which stipulated the new protocols cruise operators must adhere to in order to be given the green light to begin sailing again.

Some cruise operators have worked around the delayed roll out of the CDC’s guidance by resuming sailings out of ports located in the Bahamas and the Caribbean.

About 17% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, as of April 1, and around 30% of people have received at one dose of the mRNA vaccines, according to the latest CDC data.

Walensky said the recent surge in COVID-19 cases is worrying — the U.S. currently has a 7-day average of about 62,000 cases per day — and that’s why she is advocating “against general travel overall” despite the recorded jump in travel to pre-pandemic levels in March.

“Our guidance is silent on recommending or not recommending fully vaccinated people travel,” Walensky said. “Our guidance speaks to the safety of doing so. If you are vaccinated, it is lower risk.”

Even before the CDC rolled out its newly relaxed guidelines for the fully immunized, travelers were already booking trips in response to the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.

More than 1.57 million people traveled through airports on Sunday, March 28, according to data from the Transportation Security Administration, representing a record number of travelers passing through airports since March 2020 when the pandemic began.

Domestic flight searches for this summer have increased 58% over the past month.

The number of people traveling is only expected to grow this year. Domestic flight searches for this summer have increased 58% over the past month, according to Adit Damodaran, an economist with travel app Hopper, and Americans’ searches for domestic flights have now surpassed pre-pandemic levels from 2019.

While domestic travel searches represent two-thirds of overall searches for flights, there has been renewed interest in international travel to countries that have reopened their borders to people who are immunized.

There was a 93% jump in searches for flights to Iceland after the country announced in mid-March that it would allow vaccinated travelers, including Americans, to enter its borders, according to Hopper.

“Based on the search patterns we’ve observed when these countries have issued reopening announcements, we expect the new CDC guidance could lead to a giant spike in international flight-search demand,” Damodaran said.

Meanwhile, travel operators have begun imposing their own requirements that vacationers be fully vaccinated prior to travel. Multiple cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean International RCL, +1.24% and Virgin Voyages, have introduced vaccine requirements for some or all of their current bookings from ports outside the U.S.

The CDC has yet to give any cruise lines the green light to resume sailings out of American ports since it updated its guidance for cruise lines last fall.