What the COVID-19 Delta Variant Means for Your Travel Plans
September 13, 2021
As the highly contagious COVID-19 Delta variant drives up infection rates worldwide, it has brought new concerns, questions and roadblocks for travelers.
The travel landscape is fast changing, as a growing number of countries have imposed new restrictions in the face of soaring cases. The Delta variant spreads person-to-person much more easily than previous versions of the coronavirus.
Is It Safe to Travel?
Traveling is relatively safe if you’re fully vaccinated, but you should still take precautions and pay attention to developments, says infectious disease specialist Keith Armitage, MD, medical director of the UH Roe Green Center for Travel Medicine & Global Health.
“The Delta variant has raised the stakes of travel for unvaccinated people,” Dr. Armitage says. “Anybody unvaccinated is at high risk. But fully vaccinated people with normal immune systems remain at very low risk for getting significantly ill.”
Even so, Dr. Armitage recommends fully vaccinated people wear face masks in public indoor settings, especially in areas with high infection rates. COVID-19 vaccines provide substantial protection against severe disease and death. But fully vaccinated people can still be infected and have mild symptoms or no symptoms.
“Given how contagious the Delta variant is, I would recommend masking indoors,” he says.
“If you travel to a high-risk area, even if you’re vaccinated you can potentially pick it up and spread it to others," he says. "Even if you’re asymptomatic, you can spread to household members who are vulnerable.”
International travel is particularly tricky. The U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised that even fully vaccinated people should avoid travel to a long list of nations with very high transmission rates. Many countries have imposed new restrictions on U.S travelers as well.
The CDC in recent months has warned against travel to several European countries, Israel and Puerto Rico, and raised travel alerts to Jamaica and other Caribbean destinations.
France recently banned non-essential travel by unvaccinated U.S. travelers. Other European nations have come out with new restrictions. Bulgaria, Norway and Sweden have banned travel from the United States, while many others have various vaccination, testing and quarantine requirements.
The CDC advises unvaccinated Americans not to travel anywhere abroad.
Canada allows U.S. citizens to enter for non-essential travel, but only if they have been fully vaccinated for at least 14 days. Travelers need to register at a government web site to enter vaccine information. Children under age 12 who aren’t eligible for vaccination or unvaccinated dependent children will be allowed to enter Canada with a fully vaccinated parent or guardian.
England also allows fully vaccinated travelers from the United States and Europe to enter the country without having to quarantine.
A patchwork of advisories and requirements are in place country to country, and changes are happening fast. UH Travel Medicine Services provides a resource page here.
“You have to be very careful to assess conditions and restrictions,” Dr. Armitage says. “It’s crucial that people doing international travel to know exactly what’s expected going and coming, and realize conditions can change.”
The CDC website has a list of travel recommendations by destination, including risk assessment for COVID-19, which is updated frequently.
Entering the U.S.
Air travelers entering the United States, including fully vaccinated U.S. citizens, are required to have a negative COVID-19 test result no more than three days before travel or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 in the past three months before they board a flight.
“In the developed world, it’s very easy to get tested if you have to,” Dr. Armitage says. “Most major airports now have testing options. Getting tested isn’t a big barrier, just know the requirements.”
The board-certified infectious disease specialists at the University Hospitals Roe Green Center for Travel Medicine & Global Health can help ensure that travelers of all ages stay healthy and safe during their journeys. Learn more about the UH Roe Green Center for Travel Medicine & Global Health.