Covid and Travel: There Is Light at the End of the Tunnel, But the CDC Won’t Tell You About It (Yet)

The author's glass being refilled with Dom Perignon Brut Champagne

By Jonathan Spira on 13 March 2021
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If you found something missing last week when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance saying that those who had received both of their Covid-19 inoculations could socialize with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or maintaining their distance, you weren’t alone.

Immediately upon reading the guidance as well as our news brief on the topic, my mind went to travel.  Riding in an airplane is safer than being a restaurant or shop thanks to excellent air exchange technology, strict mask rules are in place for passengers, and airports are about as risky as a mall, meaning they pose little risk for the fully vaccinated.

The guidance, which go into great detail, also say the fully vaccinated among us can visit the unvaccinated under the same rules‚ the caveat only being that the unvaccinated must be from a single household who are at low risk for severe Covid-19 disease. The CDC further recommended vaccinated individuals “refrain” from quarantining and testing if they come into contact with someone with Covid-19 and do not develop symptoms.

What wasn’t included in the CDC guidelines was guidance and guidelines for fully vaccinated people who plan to travel.   The document was silent there, the visits the CDC spoke of between vaccinated grandparents and unvaccinated children and grandchildren should be local, in effect.

Without mincing words, the CDC warned the fully vaccinated, a group that comprises over 10% of U.S. citizens as of Saturday, to avoid larger gatherings and to “delay domestic or international travel.”

An earlier draft of the guidelines reportedly did include a statement on travel but CDC officials decided not to release that component last week.

Instead, the CDC said spoke of delaying travel, which left my head spinning in puzzlement:

Granted, the CDC is, of course, far from finished in promulgating guidance. This was its first step in freeing people to take some liberties that the unvaccinated should not take.

“With more and more people getting vaccinated, each day we are starting to turn a corner, and as more Americans are vaccinated, a growing body of evidence now tells us that there are some activities that fully vaccinated people can resume at low risk to themselves,” Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, said at a White House news conference on Monday.

But, she added, “While we work to quickly vaccinate people more and more each day, we have to see this through.”The new advice is couched in caveats and leaves room for amendments as new data become available. The guidance is a “first step,” Walensky said. “It is not our final destination.”

While that leaves the CDC plenty of room to issue further guidance includes guidelines for travel for fully vaccinated people, the silence was deafening.

Pilots at American Airlines, the world’s largest airline, seem to feel as I do.  On Friday, the union representing those in the cockpit pointed out the irony of the U.S. government having invested billions in the airline industry only to stop short of telling fully vaccinated Americans to travel, even to travel cautiously.

“It doesn’t make sense that the federal government would invest in the airline industry if Americans shouldn’t travel,” said Eric Ferguson, president of the Allied Pilots Association. “If you’ve been following safe guidelines at home, and your friends or relatives elsewhere have been doing likewise, booking a flight to visit them should not increase your risk.”

All this having been said, there are still a lot of unknowns especially in the realm of the extent to which a fully vaccinated person could also be contagious, although there have been extremely few cases of infection following the first and second shots of both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

Clearly, I am not advocating throwing caution to the wind, but I do strongly endorse a more nuanced approach in terms of stating what might be considered “safe” at this point in terms of travel for the fully vaccinated, myself including, than allowing them to go off on their own sans guidance hither and thither.

As of press time, the CDC had not yet responded to a request for comment on the new guidelines submitted by e-mail and telephone.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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