As Chicago's travel advisory takes on new recommendations for unvaccinated travelers, what could this mean for your Labor Day weekend plans?
The Chicago Department of Public Health 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," CDPH Commissioner Dr. Allison 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."
Arwady said ultimately the decision will be left to parents and schools, but she urged those with unvaccinated kids to avoid traveling for the long Labor Day 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."
Increases in COVID metrics pushed those newly added states over the threshold of 15 cases per day per 100,000 people to get onto the "orange" list. Any below that mark are on the "yellow" list, with public health officials still warning against non-essential travel.
"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."
This week's update to the travel advisory comes at a time when the average daily number of new cases in Chicago is up to 467 per day - a 1% increase over the previous week.
That figure is also more than 12 times the low of 34 that 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 up 24% from last week and deaths are down 35% from the week prior, per the city's data. The positivity rate in testing is down to 4.3% this week, a drop from 4.5% last week.
Arwady noted earlier this month that about 99% of new COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths are among unvaccinated individuals.