As summer draws to a close, the highly transmissible delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, which is now dominant in the United States, raises questions about everything from when it will be safe to return to work to ensure child safety in schools.
For many people, summer travel plans are also in limbo.
On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed their guidelines for fully vaccinated people, advising them to wear masks indoors in places with high or substantial transmission rates. Counties that meet these criteria represent about two-thirds of the U.S. population, according to a CNBC analysis of agency data.
“We’re dealing with a different virus now,” White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said of the delta variant in an interview with NPR Tuesday.
So, is it even safe to travel? The answer depends entirely on your personal circumstances, including your risk profile and tolerance, Dr. Ashley Lipps, assistant professor in the division of infectious diseases at Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University, told CNBC Make It. .
Here are some questions you might ask yourself as you approach summer travel plans:
No trip is completely safe, and its degree of safety depends on individual circumstances.
But the best thing to do if you plan to travel is to make sure everyone who qualifies in your travel party is fully immunized, including all adults, Lipps says. The CDC recommends that you delay the trip until you are fully immunized.
Rules for unvaccinated people who must travel are strict: The CDC says unvaccinated people should get tested one to three days before traveling and again three to five days after they return, plus quarantine for seven days when they return home.
Vaccinated and unvaccinated people should wear masks on airplanes, buses, trains and other forms of public transport, as well as within transport hubs such as airports and train stations.
Everyone should monitor themselves for symptoms of Covid.
Traveling is tricky for families with young children, as vaccines are not yet available for children under 12. said.
You can also take steps to minimize your exposure to other people, like driving in a car rather than flying in an airplane and sticking to outdoor activities at your destination, she suggests.
But Kullar says it’s best for families with young children “to wait until this surge has plateaued” to travel.
Airplanes are inherently a bit riskier, as you are in and around many other people whose immunization status you may not know. Make sure you are fully immunized before boarding a plane.
Because the delta is more transmissible than the other variants, “there is a higher probability, especially at airports that are inside, of putting you at risk and potentially transmitting and spreading it,” explains Kullar.
Anyone wearing masks, which is required on public transportation by federal rules, can reduce the risk of transmission, Lipps says. “Taking the precautions described can certainly reduce your chances of [of infection],” she says.
Kullar says that while masking is mandatory and usually enforced by flight attendants on board the aircraft, you should also be careful at the airport, where it is crowded and the mask may not be worn. be closely supervised by staff.
“The airport is probably the riskiest,” says Kullar.
According to CDC, short car trips with members of your household or fully vaccinated individuals with only a few stops along the way is a safer choice.
How do you know how bad Covid is in a destination?
The bottom line is that no destination is zero risk.
“Covid is just prevalent everywhere, so there will be a risk, whether you are in a high transmission area versus a lower transmission area,” Lipps said.
Knowing the transmission rate at your destination is only one factor that can help you consider the overall risk for your trip, Lipps says. For example, if you go to a state that the CDC has classified as high or substantial transmission, you will need to wear masks in indoor public places whether or not you are vaccinated. Some places now have mask warrants.
The CDC has a menu which shows you the level of community transmission by county. You can also check the state or local health department website for specific information about your destination.
Also pay attention to who you travel with and how their individual risk factors influence your decision, Lipps says.
“If you plan to go to a place with very high transmission rates and you have unvaccinated children or adults who may be immunocompromised or at high risk, it may be helpful to avoid this kind of travel or to travel somewhere where there is perhaps less community transmission, ”she says.
The CDC suggests that you refer to its travel recommendations by destination before traveling abroad.
What if you are traveling outside the country?
Some countries don’t have as much access to Covid vaccines, “so you can go to places where there are far fewer people vaccinated than here in the United States,” Lipps explains.
And “in most places other than the United States, the delta is just as worrying, if not more so in some Asian countries,” Kullar said. “I would put the brakes on international travel until we got out of the thick of it.”
In addition, rules and regulations evolve as situations change around the world.
Wednesday, the The UK has announced that travelers from the US and the EU no longer need to self-quarantine upon arrival in England or Scotland. And Canada will allow fully vaccinated Americans to enter the country on August 9 for the first time since March 2020.
“You need to be careful if you are planning international travel, as there may be changing travel restrictions ahead that we simply cannot foresee at this point,” Lipps said.
Testing requirements, stay-at-home orders, and quarantine requirements also vary from location to location.
Take the Caribbean Islands, for example: Bermuda requires unvaccinated visitors to be quarantined for 14 days upon arrival. Those vaccinated should also be quarantined in Bermuda until they receive a negative PCR test. But in the Bahamas, fully vaccinated people don’t need to be tested or self-quarantined to enter.
Another thing to keep in mind if you are leaving the country: the CDC requires any passenger coming to the United States to have a negative Covid test result (or documentation showing that you have recovered from Covid) before boarding. on a flight to the United States
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