The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week issued a new message to domestic travelers: Test before you go.
With cases and hospitalizations back on the rise in the United States, the agency is now asking travelers to test for COVID-19, using either a PCR or antigen test, as close to the time of departure as possible and no more than three days prior to travel—regardless of vaccination status. Previously, the CDC had only recommended getting tested before domestic travel for those who are unvaccinated.
So, why the change?
“COVID-19 vaccines are effective at preventing severe disease and death. However, since vaccines are not 100 percent effective at preventing infection, some people who are up to date can still get COVID-19. People who are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines may feel well and not have symptoms but still can be infected and spread the virus to others,” a CDC spokesperson said in a statement sent to AFAR.
The CDC considers travelers to be up to date on their COVID vaccines if they have received all doses in the primary series as well as one booster shot once eligible. A second booster shot is currently not needed to be considered up to date.
In addition to asking that all travelers consider getting tested for COVID no more than three days prior to departure, the CDC also advises all travelers to get tested after they return from their trip, especially if the travel “involved situations with greater risk of exposure such as being in crowded places while not wearing a well-fitting mask.”
As of May 18, the daily average of COVID cases in the U.S. was 103,231. That’s an increase of more than 50 percent compared to two weeks ago when the daily average was 65,891. Hospitalizations are also up 29 percent over the past two weeks to a daily average of 23,223, according to the New York Times’ COVID tracker.
Federal health officials on Wednesday warned that the upward trend in cases could continue and added that one-third of the U.S. population now lives in areas where people should be wearing masks indoors again.
The CDC continues to recommend masks for travel
Earlier this month, the CDC restated its recommendation that everyone aged two and older wear a well-fitted mask on public transportation and in transportation hubs, including on airplanes and in airports. The CDC’s renewed advice on wearing masks while traveling came just two weeks after a federal judge in Florida struck down the federal transportation mask mandate, resulting in a domino effect of mask requirements being lifted across the country, including on domestic flights.
“Traveling on public transportation increases a person’s risk of getting and spreading COVID-19 by bringing people in close contact with others, often for prolonged periods,” a CDC spokesperson told AFAR.
While masking and testing for domestic travel are optional, COVID testing for international travel into the U.S. remains a requirement. All travelers ages two and older entering the U.S. (including U.S. citizens and residents) must provide proof of a negative COVID test from within one day of travel, regardless of vaccination status.
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