You might want to think twice before traveling this Labor Day weekend, according to health officials.
As COVID metrics continue to climb across the U.S. and the delta variant surges in many states, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said even those who are fully vaccinated should consider the risks.
During a White House press briefing Tuesday, Walensky said everyone should rethink their travel plans, though she specifically urged unvaccinated people not to travel at all.
"Given where we are with disease transmission right now, we would say that people need to take their own -- these risks into their own consideration as they think about traveling," Walensky said during a White House Covid briefing Tuesday, noting that people who are fully vaccinated and wear masks can travel. "If you are unvaccinated, we would recommend not traveling."
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said ultimately the decision will be left to parents, but she specifically urged those with unvaccinated kids to avoid traveling for the long holiday weekend.
"It is higher risk," she said. "I would not recommend traveling, right, if you've got unvaccinated children, and particularly younger children. And the whole country is doing really badly from a COVID perspective right now so... I can tell you my own sister, you know, they have three young children who are too young to be vaccinated. They were hoping to go to Michigan for Labor Day, they're not going in the context of it now being an orange state and their kids not being able to be vaccinated. I know that's hard for people but we're just trying to avoid infection and I think especially when we're back in school the bar is a little higher in terms of trying to think about limiting that risk as much as possible."
Chicago updated its travel advisory recommendations for unvaccinated travelers Tuesday, adding additional testing guidelines for those going to or coming from higher-risk locations as well as quarantining.
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."
Nearly every U.S. state, with the exception of Vermont, is now on the city's travel advisory, meaning those states are experiencing 15 cases per day per 100,000 people.
"Unfortunately COVID is surging across the entire United States," Arwady said. "The average right now is at 39 cases per 100,000 per day. We're doing much better than that here in Chicago, but nevertheless the news remains not good from a COVID perspective at the national level."
According to AAA, more people are expected to hit the roads for the unofficial end of summer due to the pandemic.
"We do expect that a majority of the people who are going to go away are going to be going by car as they have been since the pandemic," spokesperson Molly Hart said.
But for those who do travel, it will be important to pay attention to the guidelines in place at each destination.
"Because of COVID-19 and the delta variant thing changing in regards to traveling every day and what people choose to do, it's a personal decision to travel," Hart said. "If people do travel, we, you know, recommend that everyone follow the CDC guidelines."
Hart said many who are traveling are expected to choose outdoor options due to the pandemic.
"What we've seen over the past year is that people are just choosing to go to destinations where they can enjoy outside activities," she said. "And that can include national parks, state parks, beaches, resorts - it's a way for them to feel more comfortable due to the pandemic."