JThroughout the pandemic, travelers have relied on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) travel health advisories which rate the risk of traveling to each country. Today, the agency has radically changed its world’s map.
For the past 17 months, the CDC has used a four-tier system for Covid-19 based on incidence rates — the number of daily new cases per 100,000 population. For a destination to be designated at the dreaded risk level of Level 4, whose “very high risk” comes with a “Do not travel” advisory, more than 500 new daily cases per 100,000 people have been recorded at the course of the previous 28 days.
Criteria for Levels 3, 2 and 1 were also based on incidence rates, with a sliding scale ranging from “high risk” at Level 3 to “moderate risk” at Level 2 to “low risk” at Level 1. For each of these risk levels, the CDC has recommended: “Make sure you are fully vaccinated before traveling” and “Unvaccinated travelers should avoid non-essential travel.”
Last week, 89 countries remained at level 4, including almost all of the European continent. But today, the CDC map is very different, with no countries at level 4, which now means “special circumstances/no travel.”
There are 122 countries at level 3, which still means “high risk” for Covid-19. The United States, Canada and Mexico are all at this level, as is all of Europe.
The CDC’s new system “now reserves Level 4 travel health advisories for specific circumstances, such as a rapidly increasing case trajectory or extremely high case count, the emergence of a new variant of concern, or collapse of health infrastructure,” according to a CDC Statement. Levels 3, 2 and 1 will continue to be primarily determined by 28-day incidence or number of cases.
The agency says the change reflects the reduced risk for the 74.3% of Americans ages 12 and older who are fully vaccinated, according to CDC data. However, less than half of Americans eligible for a booster shot received one.
As the world began to reopen to tourism, the CDC’s risk assessment map had become less meaningful. Major travel companies have reported strong bookings for Europe, regardless of the CDC’s warning level. Last week, seven Tier 4 European destinations – Italy, France, Greece, the UK, Spain, Ireland and Switzerland – topped the top 10 destinations for Virtuoso, whose 20,000 travel advisors make up the world’s largest luxury travel network. “CDC advisories have little impact,” said Misty Belles, vice president of global public relations for Virtuoso.
With three out of four Americans over the age of 12 now fully vaccinated, the CDC says it no longer makes sense to base its “Do Not Travel” warning on the number of new daily cases.
“With this new configuration, travelers will have a more actionable alert for when they should not travel to a certain destination (Level 4), regardless of vaccination status, until we have a better understanding of the Covid-19 situation at this destination,” according to the CDC.
Last week, the Biden administration extended the federal mask mandate for air travel and public transportation through May 3. The order was due to expire today, but the CDC said the extension was necessary due to the rise in new Covid-19 cases and to assess hospitalizations and deaths, and health-care system capacity.
In March, the CDC dropped the Covid-19 travel health advisory for the cruise. The agency continues to emphasize that cruisers must be “up to date” on their vaccinations, which means reminders for those who are eligible. The CDC continues to recommend that people who have not received a reminder avoid cruising.