For many Americans, this holiday season marked the first time they were planning to take a trip away from home in months. When travel booking site Hopper polled 850 people this fall about whether they’re planning to travel for the holidays this year, 55 percent said it was going to be their first time traveling since the start of the pandemic. However, they might be reconsidering as the country experiences a troubling surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations just as we head into the festive season.
In light of the surge, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on December 9 issued updated advice for winter holiday travel and gatherings, noting that “the safest way to celebrate winter holidays is to celebrate at home with the people you live with. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others.”
The agency is reminding everyone that traveling does increase transmission risk for COVID-19 and that gatherings with those you do not live with can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu. (It also reminds everyone to get their flu shot.)
Furthermore, would-be holiday travelers should also make sure that they are up to date on the latest travel restrictions—numerous states have quarantine or COVID-19 testing orders in place and states are implementing stricter COVID-19 regulations in an effort to curb the surge. International travel remains highly restricted as well.
The CDC’s holiday travel advice
For holiday travel, the CDC has provided a list of questions to ask:
- Are you, someone in your household, or someone you will be visiting at increased risk for severe illness due to COVID-19?
- Are cases high or increasing in your community or your destination?
- Are hospitals in your community or your destination overwhelmed with patients who have COVID-19? (You can find out by checking state and local public health department websites.)
- Does your origin or destination have requirements or restrictions for travelers?
- During the 14 days before your travel, have you or those you are visiting had close contact with people they don’t live with?
- Do your plans include traveling by bus, train, or air which might make staying six feet apart difficult?
- Are you traveling with people who don’t live with you?
If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” the CDC advises making other plans, such as hosting a virtual gathering or delaying your trip.
For those who need to travel during the coronavirus pandemic, here’s what the CDC now recommends :
- Get tested 1–3 days before your flight—make sure to have actual results (not pending results) prior to traveling.
- If you have a positive result, do not travel.
- Get tested 3–5 days after your flight.
- Stay home for 7 days after traveling, even if you test negative.
- If you test positive for COVID-19 after you travel, isolate yourself and follow public health recommendations. Do not travel until you are no longer considered a transmission risk—this includes your return trip home.
“If travelers do not get tested after traveling, CDC recommends reducing nonessential activities for 10 days,” Dr. Henry Walke, director of preparedness and emerging infections at the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, said during a CDC telebriefing on December 2.
“Testing does not eliminate all risk, but when combined with reducing nonessential activities, symptom screening and continuing with precautions like wearing [a] mask, social distancing and hand washing, it can make travel safer.”
The CDC notes that travelers should always defer to federal, state, and local government travel restrictions and requirements. Some of those restrictions can include COVID-19 testing requirements and mandatory quarantines that can often be as long as 14 days.
“A negative test does not mean that you were not exposed or that you will not develop COVID-19. Make sure to wear a mask, stay at least 6 feet from others, wash your hands, and watch your health for signs of illness while traveling,” the CDC advises.
For those looking for alternative ways to celebrate, the agency has a long list of safer activities to consider, from virtual celebrations and gift exchanges, to embracing winter weather and festive decor, listed on its winter holidays advisory page.
Asking travelers to do their part
In light of rising COVID-19 infection numbers nationwide, the U.S. Travel Association has asked travelers to follow public health best practices if they do plan on hitting the road or heading into the skies.
“It is extremely important to not become complacent,” U.S. Travel Association president and CEO Roger Dow said at a press conference last month.
“Public health is a shared responsibility . . . and if you’re choosing to travel, you have a major role to play,” added Dow. “First and foremost: Wear a mask in public spaces. That needs to be universal at this point.”
This story was originally published on September 23, 2020, and was updated on December 10, 2020, to include current information.