As the second pandemic winter approaches, Americans are gearing up to spend another holiday season under the thumb of COVID-19 concerns.
While the new Omicron variant, which is now the dominant variant in the United States, has added another layer of uncertainty, the availability of COVID-19 vaccines has meant gathering is much safer this year.
Public health experts are encouraging those who are vaccinated to spend the holidays with their loved ones.
Even with COVID-19 cases increasing in the US, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said those who are vaccinated can enjoy gathering with other vaccinated people for the holidays, but cautioned about spending time in crowded, indoor places.
“Obviously if you are vaccinated, your family is vaccinated, you have friends who are vaccinated and hopefully also boosted, you can still enjoy a social gathering generally in a home,” Fauci said in an interview with NBC last week. “You’ve got to be careful when you go into large, public indoor spaces where there are a lot of people there, and that’s the reason why you should be wearing a mask under those circumstances.”
He added that the situation could change if cases continue to increase and further restrictions are deemed necessary to control the spread of Omicron.
“You’ve got to follow what’s going on,” Fauci continued. “If the counts keep going up and the test positivity keeps going up, we may need to be more restrictive. But for right now, people who are vaccinated and boosted should feel reasonably comfortable. The risk is never zero, that’s for sure.”
Fauci said if he had to, he would have “no problem” getting on an airplane.
“I have no intention of getting on a plane, but if I had to for family or other reasons, I would not hesitate to do that.”
Ahead of Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s celebrations, here’s a primer on domestic and international travel guidelines, and a few recommendations from public health experts on how to keep yourself and your family members safe.
Travelling within the US
Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend people delay their travel plans until they are fully vaccinated.
Those who have plans to travel should delay their trip if they have been exposed to COVID-19, are feeling sick, or have tested positive for the virus.
For those who aren’t fully vaccinated and must travel, the CDC recommends taking additional precautions, including getting tested for COVID-19 both before and after your trip. Officials recommend getting tested with a viral test between one and three days before departing and once you have return, getting a viral test between three and five days.
Unvaccinated people should stay home and quarantine for seven days once returning from traveling, even if they have tested negative within three to five days after returning. For unvaccinated people who decide not to get tested, they should stay home and quarantine for 10 days after returning.
The CDC recommends researching the level of COVID-19 transmission in the destination people are traveling to and taking note of any restrictions or mask mandates that may be in place.
Federal travel guidelines do not require passengers to get tested for COVID-19 ahead of domestic travel.
Masks are required to be worn on planes, trains, buses, and other forms of public transportation in the United States and while indoors at transportation hubs like airports or train stations.
Officials also recommend that those who are unvaccinated wear masks in indoor public places. On Tuesday, Governor Charlie Baker issued a mask advisory in Massachusetts, urging all residents, regardless of their vaccination status, to wear masks in indoor, public places.
Those who are fully vaccinated should still wear masks indoors if they are in an area with high or substantial COVID-19 transmission rates or if they have a weakened immune system, according to the CDC.
According to the CDC, the level of COVID-19 transmission in the US is high. The entire state of Massachusetts qualifies as an area with high transmission.
A map of COVID-19 transmission rates in every county in the United States can be viewed here.
Those who are planning to travel internationally for the holidays should keep in mind that the requirements have recently changed amid the emergence of the Omicron variant.
The new rules, announced by President Biden last week, tighten the time frame for COVD-19 testing for international travelers.
Previously, international travelers were required to test negative three days before departing for the United States. Now, they will be required to test negative within one day of their departure. The measure applies to everyone, regardless of their vaccination status or nationality.
A number of countries have also implemented their own travel restrictions, testing, or quarantine requirements amid the spread of the Omicron variant. Travel rules are changing fast, so be sure to check the regulations at your destination.
In order to slow the spread of the variant, Biden has restricted travel for those who aren’t US citizens coming from South Africa, Malawi, Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Eswatini.
Most people who are not US citizens or permanent residents arriving to the United States from another country are required to be fully vaccinated and show proof before flying to the US.
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