With the holiday travel rush continuing despite complications from the surging omicron variant, Chicago has added two more states and one territory to its travel advisory ahead of the New Year.
Louisiana and South Carolina, along with the Virgin Islands, were added to the city's warning list Tuesday, but Montana was removed.
That means that, as of Tuesday, every state or territory except for Guam and Montana are on the advisory. Three states – Alaska, Idaho, and Mississippi – are eligible to come off the advisory next week, the Chicago Department of Public Health said, if their numbers remain below the threshold.
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 must travel during this time, please make sure you are fully vaccinated – and that includes a booster shot,” CDPH Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said in a statement. “You don’t know the vaccination status of your fellow travelers, so take the extra precaution of wearing your mask whenever you are in enclosed spaces with other people. If you’re not vaccinated, you probably shouldn’t be traveling.”
Just before the Labor Day holiday, the city updated its guidance for what unvaccinated travelers visiting or returning from locations on the advisory 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 climbed to 3,796 per day - up 85% from the previous week.
That figure is much higher than the low of 34 the city saw in late June and now exceeds the more than 700 cases per day the city was seeing during the most recent surge earlier this year.
City data showed hospitalizations are up 15% from the previous week, but deaths are down by 37% since last week. The positivity rate in testing rose to 15.4% this week, a sharp jump from the 7.4% reported the week prior.
Some of the data may be skewed due to the holidays, however.
The travel advisory is updated every Tuesday, with any changes taking effect the following Friday.