CDC Says Fully Vaccinated People Can Travel Within the US at 'Low Risk'—Here’s How to Do It Safely

Yes, you still need to wear a mask.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has good news for people who haven't seen long-distance family members since before the COVID-19 pandemic—if you've been fully vaccinated, you can travel safely at "low risk."

CDC Travel Guidelines , Syringes flying as airplanes on blue background. Minimal Coronavirus or 2019-nCoV or COVID-19 vaccine distribution concept.
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The revised guidelines, released Friday, have been a long time coming, as people who've had their shots have wondered whether they can now make non-essential trips. Until now, those have been discouraged by the CDC, but the new guidance gives the green light to fully vaccinated individuals, and appears to be aimed at grandparents who want to travel by airplane to see their grandchildren.

Quick reminder: To be considered "fully vaccinated," you need all required shots of a COVID-19 vaccine—two for the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines and one for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine—and two weeks must have passed since your final dose. Also, if you have a condition or are taking medication that weakens your immune system, you may not be fully protected even if you are fully vaccinated. If this applies, speak to your healthcare provider before you book international travel. And again, these updated guidelines are only for fully vaccinated people—those who have not been fully vaccinated should continue to adhere to all guidelines for unvaccinated people.

There are some key differences between the new updated domestic travel guidelines and international travel guidelines for vaccinated people. Here's what you need to know about both, and how you can travel safely right now.

Domestic travel recommendations for fully vaccinated people:

According to the CDC, fully vaccinated people don't need to get a COVID-19 test before or after travel within the US, unless their destination requires it. They also don't need to self-quarantine after traveling in the US.

These new recommendations are based on information that fully vaccinated travelers are less likely to get and spread COVID-19, per the CDC.

International travel recommendations for fully vaccinated people:

For those traveling outside of the US, the CDC says fully vaccinated people do not have to get a COVID-19 test before traveling, unless their foreign destination requires it. Because of this, it's important to check in with your destination before making any plans, and to follow all COVID-19 entry requirements for that destination. It's worth taking the time to do this, because if you don't adhere to the requirements, you may be denied entry on arrival and need to immediately return to the US.

Here's where international travel guidelines differ from domestic travel: The CDC still recommends COVID-19 testing three to five days after travel, even if you're fully vaccinated. And almost all international US air visitors must still provide a negative COVID-19 test result before traveling to the US. Fully vaccinated people, however, do not need to self-quarantine upon arrival back to the US.

Other recommendations for safe travel for fully vaccinated people:

Even if you've been fully vaccinated, the CDC still recommends wearing a mask over your nose and mouth whenever you're in a public place, including public transportation (planes, buses, trains) and public transportation hubs. That's regardless of whether you stay within the US or venture outside.

If you do opt for international travel, it's also wise to check the current COVID-19 situation in your destination, so you know what to expect when you get there. Different countries have their own rules and guidance for mask wearing and other safety precautions, and the situation can change rapidly.

In addition to wearing masks in public, the CDC also urges travelers to continue avoiding crowds and staying at least six feet away from anyone who isn't in your travel party. It's important to keep washing your hands regularly, or using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol when soap and running water aren't available.

Also important: The CDC recommends that both domestic and international travelers continue to monitor themselves for symptoms of COVID-19—fully vaccinated or not. And if you do develop symptoms, that's when you should self-isolate and get tested.

These new travel guidelines will be welcomed by the travel industry, which has been hit hard by the travel restrictions in place throughout the pandemic. On March 22, US airlines and trade groups, including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and Southwest Airlines, called on the CDC to immediately update its guidance to say vaccinated individuals can travel safely, reported CNBC.

Medical experts also agree that it's the right move. "It's overdue and reflects the science of the vaccine," infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, MD, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Maryland, tells Health.

CDC director Rochelle Walensky, MD, agrees, telling The Washington Post that lightening up on travel restrictions will help bring about even more normalcy after a rough year: "Vaccines can help us return to the things we love about life, so we encourage every American to get vaccinated as soon as they have the opportunity."

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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