Three states were removed and one added back onto Chicago's travel advisory Tuesday, dropping the number of states on the city's warning list to 38 states and one territory days before the Thanksgiving holiday.
Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee came off the travel advisory, but Arkansas returned, health officials announced.
Arkansas was the lone state to drop out of the city's "orange category" on the advisory last week, though officials noted that several states were on the verge of dropping off the list.
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As of Tuesday, every U.S. state or territory is on the advisory except for Alabama, Connecticut, D.C., Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and the Virgin Islands.
The list could still change ahead of Thanksgiving with the advisory set to be updated every Tuesday.
"Right now, for unvaccinated people, traveling over Thanksgiving is a risky move, especially if you plan to visit other Midwest or Upper Midwest states, where the daily case rates have not been going down,” Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said in a statement. “Fully vaccinated people are at a much lower risk of serious COVID-related health problems, but all of us should be careful over the coming weeks – even more so if you plan to be among crowds or at large family gatherings.”
States are added to the advisory's "orange list" when COVID metrics rise above the threshold of 15 cases per day per 100,000 people. Any below that mark are on the "yellow" list, with public health officials still warning against non-essential travel.
“If you are traveling, whether you are vaccinated or unvaccinated – especially if you are unvaccinated – please do not take COVID lightly,” Arwady said. “We still have a long way to go before we can all confidently travel safely throughout the country. COVID is a threat to everyone – but the threat is reduced tremendously if you are vaccinated.”
Just before the Labor Day, the city updated its guidance for what unvaccinated travelers visiting or returning from such locations should do, adding new testing and quarantining recommendations before and after travel.
According to the city, before travel, unvaccinated individuals should:
- Get tested 3-5 days prior to departure.
- ALL individuals regardless of vaccination status should wear a mask on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States and while indoors at U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations.
- In Chicago, wear a mask in all indoor public settings, regardless of vaccination status.
- Avoid crowds, try to stay at least 6 feet/2 meters (about 2 arm lengths) from anyone who is not traveling with you, and wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol).
After travel, unvaccinated individuals should:
- Get tested with a viral test 3-5 days after travel AND stay home and self-quarantine for a full 7 days.
- Even if you test negative, stay home and self-quarantine for the full 7 days.
- If your test is positive, isolate yourself to protect others from getting infected.
- If you don’t get tested, stay home and self-quarantine for 10 days after travel.
- Avoid being around people who are at increased risk for severe illness for 14 days, whether you get tested or not.
The city advised all travelers to monitor themselves for COVID-19 symptoms and isolate and get tested if they develop any after travel.
"We have seen and know that travel is a significant risk factor for acquiring COVID," Arwady said. "If you decide not to get tested, the recommendation is actually to stay home and self quarantine for 10 days after travel, and you should avoid being around anybody who has an increased risk for severe COVID outcomes for 14 days after travel regardless of whether you get tested or not. Obviously we want anybody who's traveling to self monitor for COVID symptoms and get tested if you develop symptoms."
This week's update to the travel advisory comes at a time when the average daily number of new cases in Chicago rose to 445 per day - up 10% from the 406 seen the previous week.
That figure is much higher than the low of 34 the city saw in late June but remains lower than the more than 700 cases per day the city was seeing during the most recent surge earlier this year.
Hospitalizations in Chicago are down 41% from the previous week, but deaths increased by 57% since last week, per the city's data. The positivity rate in testing rose to 2.5% this week, up from 2% the week prior.
The travel advisory is updated every Tuesday, with any changes taking effect the following Friday.