The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday removed all countries from its highest risk level as it updated its system that advises on Covid-19 risks abroad.
The CDC ranks international destinations based on Covid-19 risks travelers might face, and under its new system, it classifies zero destinations as Level Four, or “do not travel.”
The new guidance doesn’t affect the federal order requiring entrants to the U.S. have a negative Covid test result before entry. The U.S. still requires both vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers to have a negative test taken within one day before traveling back to the country by plane or to provide documentation of recovery. Top airline executives have asked for the requirement to be dropped.
“I don’t have any insights of any changes coming forth anytime soon, but we are always looking at that,” said Cindy Friedman, chief of the CDC’s Travelers’ Health Branch, on the testing requirements.
For foreign countries, the agency will no longer base its highest designation on Covid-19 incidence or case count alone. Level Four will now only be used in special circumstances for countries with 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.
The new system will give travelers a more actionable alert for when they shouldn’t travel to a certain destination, regardless of vaccination status, the agency said.
“We’re trying to adjust our travel health notice system to make it as user friendly and as easy to understand as we can, given the information that we have from other countries around the world,” said Dr. Friedman.
The CDC still advises travelers to be up-to-date on vaccinations for travel, which can include booster doses. Last week, the directive requiring passengers to wear masks on public transportation was extended until May 3. A federal judge in Florida on Monday declared that the Biden administration’s Covid-19 mask mandate for public transportation was unlawful. Airline executives and industry groups have also called for an end to the mask mandate.
As recently as early March, more than 130 destinations were classified as Level Four, including France, Iceland and the U.K. Travelers were told to avoid travel to these destinations.
Many countries that were previously at a Level-Four travel health notice moved to Level Three, such as Costa Rica, France and Iceland. Levels Three, Two, and One will still be primarily determined by 28-day incidence or case counts.
The CDC advises travelers with weakened immune systems or who are more likely to get very sick from Covid-19 to talk with their clinician about their risk and consider delaying travel to destinations that fall into Level Two or Three, which are classified as having “high” and “moderate” risk assessment levels, respectively.
Many travel advisers say their clients stopped considering the CDC’s recommendations because so many destinations were classified as Level Four.
“It would mean they’re not traveling at all if they’re not traveling to Level Four countries,” Victoria Zindell, owner at Luxury Ventures Travel, based in Corona del Mar, Calif., said of how her clients viewed the CDC’s notice in recent months. She said the new update will provide a more helpful look at which countries her clients should avoid.
Travelers should do their own research and risk assessment about the Covid-19 conditions in international destinations, said Keri Althoff, epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She suggests looking at vaccination rates, masking guidelines, any hot spots within the country and hospitalization levels.
“The changes in these CDC guidelines, it’s important, but this is one piece of information that factors into your decision making,” Dr. Althoff said.
Many countries have eased entry requirements for air travelers. Canada ended its entry testing requirements for fully vaccinated travelers earlier this month. Jamaica and Denmark no longer require entry testing for all travelers regardless of vaccination status. Greece plans to end all entry rules for travelers in early May.
Thank you to the Wall Street Journal for featuring Luxury Ventures Travel in their article and for contacting our team for our insights.