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Fully vaccinated against COVID-19? CDC says it's safe to travel but still recommends staying home

by Dawn Goldstein, USA Today

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Americans who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can resume travel at low risk to themselves, but the agency is still not recommending travel given rising case counts.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, who earlier this week issued an urgent plea to limit travel due to fears of another COVID-19 surge, said Friday that the new guidance is based on studies showing the "real-world'' effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.

Vaccinated travelers no longer have to follow the CDC's recommendations to get a COVID-19 test before and after travel unless required by the destination. They still need to wear masks and take other precautions. A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the last recommended vaccine dose.

The CDC's Friday announcement does not change one high-profile COVID-19 travel restriction, however. Vaccinated travelers still must abide by a CDC order, issued in January, requiring a negative COVID-19 test to board international flights to the United States, and should get another test three to five days after returning.

Despite the new guidance, Walensky said during a White House briefing that the CDC is not reversing its advice to avoid nonessential travel during the pandemic, vaccinated or unvaccinated.

"CDC is not recommending travel at this time due to the number of rising cases,'' she said during the briefing.

Asked how that squares with the announcement that vaccinated Americans can safely travel, she said: "Our guidance is silent on recommending or not recommending fully vaccinated people travel,'' she said. "Our guidance speaks to the safety of doing so. If you are vaccinated, it is lower risk.''

The CDC's travel recommendations, which have evolved during the pandemic under the general banner of avoiding nonessential travel and still apply to those who aren't vaccinated, call for getting tested one to three days before a trip, three to five days after a trip and staying home and self-quarantining for seven days after travel, even with a negative test. If unvaccinated travelers don’t get tested, they should stay home and self-quarantine for 10 days after travel.

Those guidelines were still in place for vaccinated travelers when the CDC issued broad guidance for vaccinated Americans in early March.They are only guidelines, though, and plenty of travelers have boarded planes or taken road trips without the CDC's blessing. In March, passenger counts at U.S. airports topped 1 million a day every day but five, according to the Transportation Security Administration – something that hasn't happened in over a year.