CDC plans imminent release of new COVID-19 travel guidance

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The Biden administration is finalizing new travel guidance for vaccinated Americans that addresses air travel and may issue it as soon as Friday morning, two federal officials told McClatchy.

One official said that leaders at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were preparing to release the guidance “imminently,” and were still deciding Thursday evening exactly when to issue the highly anticipated recommendations. “They’re very close,” the official said.

A second official said that Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, planned to outline the guidance at a White House coronavirus briefing on Friday morning.

The new guidance comes amid rising cases of COVID-19 at home and abroad, but also as pressure has increased on the CDC to issue new pandemic travel policies as more Americans get vaccinated.

So far, the CDC has released limited guidance on what activities Americans can safely resume after getting vaccinated. In March the public health agency said that vaccinated people could safely gather with other vaccinated people indoors and without masks, but suggested they keep their gatherings small.

The White House has faced growing calls from airline and travel industry groups in recent days to issue updated federal guidelines for vaccinated Americans eager to travel this summer.

Top officials such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s chief medical advisor, said three weeks ago that new guidance for vaccinated individuals would be coming out “very soon.” He said recommendations would address travel, the workplace and houses of worship.

Separately, as Europe grapples with rising cases and stalled vaccination campaigns, administration officials have put off high-level discussions on changing travel restrictions on visitors from overseas that have been in place for over a year.

“Guided by our public health experts, the administration reviews all travel policy in light of the changing epidemiology domestically and abroad,” an administration official said earlier this week.

Coronavirus cases are soaring across mainland Europe, and Walensky warned in recent days that the United States may be on the verge of a similar surge. Average daily cases of COVID-19 are up in over 30 states.

“We know that travel is up, and I just worry that we will see the surges that we saw over the summer and over the winter again,” Walensky said on Monday. “We have been consistently discouraging travel, saying, ‘please keep it limited to only essential travel,’” the CDC director said.

At the beginning of the Biden administration, officials implemented a new policy for all incoming international travelers – including U.S. citizens – requiring them to obtain a negative COVID-19 test result before flying into the United States. They also recommend individuals quarantine for seven days after arrival.

Travel industries devastated by the coronavirus pandemic had been hopeful some of those guidelines would become less restrictive this summer after President Joe Biden pledged every American adult will be eligible for the vaccines by May 1. He has also promised enough vaccine supply for every adult in the United States by the end of May.

But discussions around easing restrictions for foreign travelers – a key source of revenue for tourism businesses in the United States – are currently at a low level in the administration, far from the decision phase, according to two administration officials.

TRAVEL INDUSTRY PUSH

With more Americans getting vaccinated, travel industry leaders have been pressing the Biden administration to relax international restrictions before a summer season that will be critical for beleaguered travel and tourism businesses.

The U.S. Travel Association, Airlines for America, Association of Flight Attendants, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Hotel & Lodging Association and more than a dozen other aviation, travel and tourist organizations have asked the Biden administration to partner with them to come up with a plan by May 1 to roll back pandemic restrictions on international travel.

In a letter to the White House, those associations said vaccinated individuals should be exempt from international testing requirements. The groups also want the CDC to update its guidance to say that vaccinated individuals can travel safely by plane and the U.S. government to begin negotiating an ease in travel restrictions with foreign governments.

“For us, it was essential that we try and get ahead of the summer travel season by ensuring that a very clear roadmap exists, not just for industry,” Sharon Pinkerton, senior vice president of legislative policy for Airlines for America, said, “but also for passengers so that they can have some type of understanding about what the ground rules will be for travel this summer.”

The CDC currently requires a negative test or proof of recovery from COVID-19 in order to board a flight to the United States. It further recommends that international travelers quarantine for seven days after arriving in the United States. Proof of vaccination does not exempt travelers from meeting those standards.

Michael Wilner is a White House correspondent for McClatchy and leads coverage of the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic. Previously, Wilner served as Washington bureau chief for The Jerusalem Post. He holds degrees from Claremont McKenna College and Columbia University and is a native of New York City.

Profile Image of Francesca Chambers

Francesca Chambers has covered the White House for more than five years across two presidencies. In 2016, she was embedded with the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. She is a Kansas City native and a graduate of the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Kansas.

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