CDC says people exposed to COVID-19 don't have to isolate. What does that mean for travel?

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Unvaccinated Americans don’t have to quarantine anymore if they’ve been exposed to COVID-19, according to newly relaxed guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also, people who test positive can end isolation sooner if they are asymptomatic or their symptoms improve quickly.

CDC spokesperson Tom Skinner told USA TODAY on Friday that additional guidance for travel would be coming soon. He did not provide a timeline for those updates.

"CDC is in the process of updating guidance for K-12/ECE, healthcare settings, high-risk congregate, and travel," Skinner said in an email. "So as of now, there are no changes to guidance for travel."

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With limited exceptions, only vaccinated foreign nationals may enter the U.S., but U.S. citizens may enter without being vaccinated. Pre-departure testing has not been required for entry into the country since mid-June.

Here's what all travelers should know about entering the U.S. by air, land and sea.

Travelers wait in line at O'Hare International Airport on June 30, 2022 in Chicago.
Travelers wait in line at O'Hare International Airport on June 30, 2022 in Chicago.

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The CDC now recommends people mask up for 10 days and test after five days if they are not fully vaccinated but are exposed to someone who is COVID-19 positive. This is in line with existing recommendations for people who are fully vaccinated.

Regardless of vaccination status, the CDC advises people who test positive to quarantine at least five days, instead of the previous 10.

"On Day 6, or later, when they are fever-free for 24 hours and their other symptoms have improved, they can end isolation and wear a mask indoors at home and in public," said Greta Massetti, an author of the CDC guidelines.

Traveling by plane to the US

Air travel is pretty much back to normal now for U.S. citizens. There are no pre-departure testing requirements for any travelers, and Americans arriving from abroad do not need to show proof of vaccination. The same applies to immigrants and lawful permanent residents as well.

The CDC does still recommend pre-departure testing for all passengers flying to the U.S., but it is not required.

Foreign nationals, however, are still required to show proof of vaccination to enter the U.S. before boarding their flight.

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Here's what the CDC counts as fully vaccinated for the purposes of international visitors:

  • Two weeks (14 days) after your dose of an accepted single-dose vaccine

  • Two weeks (14 days) after your second dose of an accepted two-dose series

  • Two weeks (14 days) after you received the full series of an accepted COVID-19 vaccine (not placebo) in a clinical trial

  • Two weeks (14 days) after you received two doses of any “mix-and-match” combination of accepted COVID-19 vaccines administered at least 17 days apart.

According to industry trade group Airlines for America, as of June, airlines were still carrying almost 20% fewer transatlantic travelers than they were in 2019.

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Can US citizens travel to Canada and Mexico by land or ferry?

The borders between the U.S., Canada and Mexico are open, but some restrictions remain.

With few exceptions, only fully vaccinated foreign nationals may enter Canada.

There are no entry restrictions for U.S. citizens entering Mexico, but travelers may be subject to health screenings upon arrival.

Vaccination is not required for U.S. citizens returning to the U.S. by land or ferry, but it is required for foreign nationals.

COVID-19 testing is not required for anyone entering the U.S. or Mexico, nor is it required for fully vaccinated travelers entering Canada.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection notes that "all testing requirements for travel fall under the authority and purview of the CDC."

"CBP is currently operating under the Secretary of Homeland Security’s Notification of Temporary Travel Restrictions Applicable to Land Ports of Entry and Ferries Service Between the United States and Canada/Mexico," a spokesman for the federal agency said in a statement to USA TODAY. "CBP will continue to enforce these restrictions until they are lifted or rescinded by the Secretary of Homeland Security."

What does the new guidance mean for cruise lines?

The CDC issued updated COVID-19 guidance for cruise ships last month, including recommended protocols for symptomatic passengers, crew and their close contacts.

As part of those guidelines, the agency said all symptomatic travelers should be isolated and tested as soon as they report symptoms to medical personnel. In addition to identifying and testing the close contacts of those infected, the CDC said cruise ships may consider a number of measures, including quarantine “until at least 5 full days after their last exposure,” among other steps, according to its website.

Travelers can check with their cruise line for its latest protocols.

“Passengers sailing on CLIA-member cruise lines will continue to see health and safety protocols in place that evolve commensurate with the public health situation,” Anne Madison, spokesperson for Cruise Lines International Association, told USA TODAY.

Carnival Cruise Line, for instance, requires passengers who are “in close contact with or exposed to any guest or crew member who tests positive for COVID-19” or who have symptoms to get tested, along with their close contacts, according to its website. Those travelers may need to quarantine in their staterooms until they are cleared by the medical team.

Royal Caribbean International also requires guests who test positive to isolate, and close contacts “will need to meet necessary quarantine and/or testing requirements based on their vaccination status,” according to the line’s website.

Contributing: Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: CDC relaxes quarantine guidelines: What travelers should know