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CDC says Americans should avoid travel during winter holiday season, get COVID-19 tests if they do

Chicago O'Hare airport (Dllu/WikiCommons)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging travelers not to travel for the upcoming winter holidays, a repeat of its guidance for Thanksgiving travel.

“The best thing for Americans to do in the upcoming holiday season is to stay at home and not travel,” Dr. Henry Walke, the CDC’s COVID-19 incident manager, said in a news briefing Wednesday.

“Cases are rising. Hospitalizations are increasing, Deaths are increasing. We need to try to bend the curve, stop this exponential increase,” Walke said.

For those who decide to travel — and there were millions who boarded planes for Thanksgiving despite similar advice — the CDC is now recommending travelers get tested for COVID-19 before and after their trips.

The CDC is recommending a test one to three days before travel and another three to five days after travel, plus reducing nonessential activities for seven days after travel, Walke said. Those who do not get tested should reduce nonessential activities for 10 days after travel, the agency said.

Testing does not eliminate travel risk, Walke said, but when combined with reducing nonessential activities and other precautions, it can make “travel safer,” he said.

Before it stepped up advice on not traveling during the holidays, the CDC had given only general advice on travel during the pandemic: “Travel may increase you chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others.”

The recommendations come as coronavirus cases continue to surge in the United States, with hospitalizations and deaths increasing. The U.S. has reported more than 13.7 million cases and over 270,600 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: 63.9 million cases and 1.48 million deaths.

Last week, the CDC strongly recommended against Thanksgiving travel. The agency said postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this holiday season.

That didn’t deter air travelers, who flocked to airports across the country. On Sunday alone, the Transportation Security Administration screened 1,176,091 travelers, a pandemic high. (That is still down 59% from the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2019.)

“Travel volume was high over Thanksgiving,” said Dr. Cindy Friedman, chief of the Travelers’ Health Branch at the CDC.

Even if only a small percentage of those who traveled had asymptomatic infections, that would lead to “hundreds of thousands” of increased infections, Friedman said.

Walke said the CDC expects to see an uptick in cases seven to 10 days after the Thanksgiving travel rush.

Also this week, the CDC advised against all travel to Mexico. Mexico has become a popular pandemic vacation spot because it does not have strict COVID-19 entry requirements, such as a negative test or quarantine. The CDC’s alert level for Mexico is its highest, level 4.

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(c) 2020 USA Today

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