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CDC Issues New Advice for International Travelers: Get 2 COVID Tests

By Michelle Baran

Nov 24, 2020

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For those who need to travel to a foreign country, testing combined with a week of isolating can reduce transmission risks.

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For those who need to travel to a foreign country, testing combined with a week of isolating can reduce transmission risks.

The agency has laid out new guidelines to help reduce the risks when traveling internationally.

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) over the weekend issued new recommendations for international travelers: The agency now says that those who need to travel abroad during the coronavirus pandemic should get tested twice for COVID-19—once before and once after their flight—and should stay home for one week after arrival. 

The recommendation stops short of using the term quarantine (it’s not a requirement after all), but the advice is that travelers stay put for one week post-travel regardless of their direction of travel, inbound into the United States or when heading abroad. 

“Testing before and after travel can reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. Testing does not eliminate all risk, but when paired with a period of staying at home and everyday precautions like wearing masks and social distancing, it can make travel safer by reducing spread on planes, in airports, and at destinations,” the CDC stated in its updated international travel guidelines.

Here’s what the CDC recommends for international travel:

  • 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 you don’t get tested, it’s safest to stay home for 14 days after travel.

“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.

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The CDC’s recommendations are just that—recommendations. At the start of the pandemic, the CDC recommended that travelers arriving in the United States from high-risk international destinations quarantine for 14 days. It then dropped that recommendation. The agency notes that travelers should always defer to federal, state, and local government travel restrictions and requirements. Some of those restrictions can include testing requirements and mandatory quarantines that are longer than 7 days.

The Best Interactive Maps for the Latest COVID Travel Restrictions

According to the CDC, another way travelers can help reduce transmission risk is by avoiding higher-risk activities for 14 days leading up to their trip. Higher-risk activities can include things such as shopping in crowded stores and attending large indoor gatherings, according to the agency. And of course, anyone who has a known exposure to COVID-19 should postpone their travels.

The updated guidance has been issued despite the fact that international travel remains highly restricted and numerous countries still have international travel bans in place. Nevertheless, its timing is also just ahead of the holiday travel season when those who can travel internationally may choose to do so. While a rather sweeping travel ban remains in place for travel between Europe and the U.S., citizens and residents are typically exempted, and there are other exceptions as well.

For travelers who are still allowed to enter the United States from abroad, including Americans returning home, there is no federally mandated testing or quarantine requirement—just CDC guidance. Individual U.S. states, however, do have their own rules about arrivals, some of which apply to foreign arrivals as well.

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Whatever the reason for the international journeys, global travelers should make sure they are up to date on the latest rules for the destination they are planning to travel to, as well as those in their origin country for when they return. The rules can change rather quickly especially as coronavirus cases climb and recede.

A New COVID “Passport” Being Tested at Newark and Heathrow Could Help Reopen Global Travel

Of the global destinations that allow for some international travel, many already require travelers to provide evidence of negative COVID-19 tests—although requirements for when tests must be taken and what kind of tests will be accepted often differ from one destination to another (and may not be the same as the CDC guidance—hence, why the agency reminds travelers that they are to defer to the rules and laws in the destination).

Airlines and the global travel industry have been pushing for countries to use coronavirus testing as a method to safely open up borders and travel until a coronavirus vaccine is widely distributed. These new guidelines could help further pave the way for such initiatives.

>> Next: These U.S. and International Airports Have COVID-19 Testing Facilities

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