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CDC says it won’t impose COVID vaccine mandate on domestic flights ‘for now’

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta. (Dreamstime/TNS)
December 29, 2021

Americans traveling domestically by air won’t have to prove they’ve gotten the COVID-19 vaccine, federal public health officials said Wednesday.

While vaccination is required for international travelers to the U.S., officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believe domestic flights are safe enough for masked travelers — even while public health experts strongly recommending vaccinations for all.

“I do know that if you are in the hospital now, you’re 17 times more likely to be unvaccinated than vaccinated,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, told National Public Radio on Wednesday. “If you are a fatality case right now, quite sadly, you are 20% — 20-fold less likely to be boosted compared to somebody who is boosted. So right now, what we’re talking about is ways to get people vaccinated. Certainly, domestic flights has been a topic of conversation, but that is not something we’re revisiting right now.”

Earlier this week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief White House medical adviser and a longtime infectious disease expert, said a vaccine mandate for domestic air travel was worth considering.

In an audio news briefing with the White House COVID-19 task force Wednesday, Fauci told reporters that, “When we talk about keeping America safe … everything that is an intervention is always on the table, and always discussed, and we discuss it regularly.”

Requiring vaccination for travelers from overseas helps keep infections, particularly new variants, out of the country, Fauci said.

“When dealing with domestic flights, you want to keep people safe, and right now we feel the masking requirement and the amount of filtration on a plane is sufficient to keep people safe,” he said. “If there’s a need to do more … we will seriously consider that. It’s just keeping an open mind.”

New CDC guidance shortens COVID-19 isolation and quarantine periods for the general public.

Isolation and quarantine times for asymptomatic individuals will be slashed in half, from 10 days to 5 days, based on the updated CDC guidance. After those five days, people should wear a mask for another five days “when around others,” the spokesperson added.

Airlines already facing staffing crunches due to the pandemic have seen illnesses force thousands of cancellations and delays worldwide largely due to the rapid spread of the omicron variant. Another 7,587 flights were delayed and 1,291 were canceled across the United States on Tuesday, as airlines continue to scramble during the holiday travel season.


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