With the new year now underway, Chicago updated its travel advisory overnight to include every U.S. state and territory, prompting city health officials to urge anyone looking to travel right now to reconsider their plans.
Last week, Montana and Guam remained the only locations not on the city's warning list.
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.
“COVID is very real, it’s merciless, and unless you are fully vaccinated, your defenses against it are pretty low,” Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said in a statement. “You can only fully fight this virus if you’re vaccinated. The evidence is overwhelming – if you are fully vaccinated and you do get COVID-19, there’s very little chance you will get so ill that you require hospitalization. Your chances aren’t nearly as good if you remain unvaccinated. Unvaccinated and vaccinated travelers alike should consider if their travel plans are necessary at this time.”
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The advisory is set to be updated every Tuesday, but the city's health department said this week's was delayed due to a lag in data from the holiday weekend.
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 4,775 per day - up 12% 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 22% from the previous week, but deaths are down by 9% since last week. The positivity rate in testing rose to 23.3% this week, a sharp jump from the 14.3% reported the week prior.
The travel advisory is updated every Tuesday, with any changes taking effect the following Friday.