CDC is changing travel warnings, reserving Level 4 for extreme cases

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is set to update its international covid-19 travel advisory system Monday, designating its highest-risk category for extreme scenarios.

“To help the public understand when the highest level of concern is most urgent, this new system will reserve Level 4 travel health notices for special circumstances, such as rapidly escalating case trajectory or extremely high case counts, emergence of a new variant of concern, or healthcare infrastructure collapse,” the agency said in a statement last week.

The three lower-level warnings will continue to be determined mainly by 28-day coronavirus incidence or case counts. “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 clearer understanding of the COVID-19 situation at that destination,” the statement continued.

The CDC’s do not travel list, explained

During the pandemic, the CDC has updated its list of countries travelers should avoid because of the coronavirus weekly, with its “Level 4” warning indicating very high levels of the coronavirus and instructing all travelers to avoid the area.

As of its last update on April 11, around 90 countries are in that category, including Australia, Italy and the United Kingdom.

The State Department also shares its own advisories. Those include threats such as terrorism and natural disasters, while factoring in CDC recommendations.

We asked: Should I avoid travel to a Level 4 country?

Last month, in a letter to new White House coronavirus response coordinator Ashish Jha, the U.S. Travel Association called for an end to “avoid travel” advisories, among other pandemic travel practices.

“The CDC should ensure that Americans are not dissuaded from traveling to any place with COVID-19 case rates that are equal to, or less than, the case rates prevailing in the U.S.,” the letter read. “As conditions continue to improve, the CDC should end all ‘avoid travel’ advisories for vaccinated individuals.”

However, the advisory system still has a useful function.

“The U.S. State Department and CDC’s travel advisories are accurate and up to date,” Abinash Virk, the former head of the travel clinic at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and an infectious-disease specialist, previously told The Washington Post by email. “They are reliable resources and extremely helpful to determine if travel to a certain location will be safe from a COVID-19 perspective or not.”

Last month, the CDC dropped cruises from its list of travel warnings. It had included notices for cruise ships since March 2020, when cruise lines stopped sailing from U.S. waters for more than a year.


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