Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Travel recommendations are changing rapidly this spring. You’ve probably heard how passengers cheered last week when a U. S. District Judge in Florida ruled that the federal mandate requiring masks on airplanes and other public transport was unlawful. TSA is no longer enforcing masking in public transportation hubs, pending appeal of the ruling. In the meantime, the CDC has added a temporary clarification to their travel recommendations.

The CDC added this message

I haven’t been on a plane since this change, but I expect that some U. S. airlines have altered their safety announcements. The last safety video I saw, while flying Delta to Amsterdam in December, emphasized air filtration and sanitation measures as well as masking. Three carriers — Delta, United, and American — are even allowing some passengers who were banned for violating mask rules to fly again, on a case by case basis, i.e. violence is not being rewarded here.

If you do wear a mask while traveling, the type of mask and how it is worn both matter. The mask shown in the video was an ordinary surgical mask, not an N95 respirator mask, but worn correctly and with the loops twisted to reduce gaps. However, the passengers had all kinds of masks worn however they wanted. Fortunately, you can still protect yourself, by wearing a properly fitted respirator mask. The CDC now states that, “Masks also help reduce inhalation of these droplets by the wearer (see below under “filtration for wearer protection”).

In another change, both the U.S. State Department and the CDC have relaxed their designation of “No travel” zones. Only a year ago, the State Department listed many travel destinations as Level 4: “Do Not Travel.”

Last Year
This Year

Now many countries have been moved to Level 1, “Exercise Normal Precautions,” or Level 2, “Exercise Increased Caution.” Of course there are some Level 4’s “Do Not Travel,” including Russia and Syria, but the State Department takes many risks into account besides COVID, including terrorism and armed conflict.

As of April 18, 2022, the CDC has changed its rating system completely, so that Level 4 (CDC) is reserved for special circumstances such as: “rapidly escalating case trajectory or extremely high case counts, emergence of a new variant of concern, and healthcare infrastructure collapse.” Under these criteria, there are no level 4 countries right now. The other three levels are based primarily on case counts. This change makes more sense than a blanket ban based on case counts. For example, when I flew to The Netherlands last December, it was designated Level 4, Do Not Travel. But countries that were level 4 a month ago, such as France, Germany, and Greece, are now level 3. This CDC rating is directed toward COVID risk alone, so Russia is also Level 3. Syria is listed as “unknown.”

Similarly, the CDC has changed its ratings for cruise ships, which are now considered Level 2, or “moderate.” Foreign-flagged cruise lines operating in U.S. waters may opt in to the CDC’s COVID rating program.

CDC Cruise Ship Ratings

As you can see, regulations are changing rapidly for travel this year. We don’t know what the virus or the regulations are going to bring us. When you make travel plans, check the requirements for both your transportation and destination, whether foreign or domestic. Assume that different locations, airlines, and cruise ships have different regulations. If you are making plans in advance, be sure to check right up to the last minute about requirements for masks, vaccinations, and testing, but don’t be discouraged. It can be done!

Bon voyage!

Notable Headlines

“Masks and flying: Everything you need to know about new US rules,” CNN Travel, April 20, 2022. https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/everything-you-need-to-know-about-new-us-mask-rules/index.html

“3 US airlines will let some passengers banned for mask violations back on their flights,” CNN, April 21, 2022. https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/banned-passengers-fly-again-delta-united/index.html

“UPDATE: Using new ranking system, CDC removes every country from ‘do not travel’ list,” The Points Guy, April 18, 2022. https://thepointsguy.com/news/cdc-to-change-travel-alerts/

“‘Chance of getting COVID-19 on cruise ships is moderate,’ CDC says in new assessment,” USA Today, March 15, 2022. https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/cruises/2022/03/15/cruise-cdc-covid-risk-face-masks/7049230001/

Additional Sources:

“Science Brief: Community Use of Masks to Control the Spread of SARS-CoV-2,” “Filtration for Wearer Protection,” CDC, updated Dec. 6, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/science/science-briefs/masking-science-sars-cov2.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fmore%2Fmasking-science-sars-cov2.html#anchor_1634654759193

“Travel Advisories,” U.S. Department of State, https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories.html/

“How CDC Determines the Level for COVID-19 Travel Health Notices,” CDC, Updated April 18, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/how-level-is-determined.html

Why am I doing this?

The pandemic hit like a tsunami and the ripple effect will be felt for decades. World upheavals, deglobalization, housing shortages, the Great Resignation, supply chain disruptions–we’re navigating changes not entirely caused by the pandemic, but accelerated by it. Since March 11, 2020, this blog has examined the modern pandemic experience both in the media and in everyday life, drawing on my experience as a medical technologist, a historian, and an ordinary person living through extraordinary times.

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