The global pandemic known as COVID-19 has kept most people from traveling over the past year and a half. Travel, especially by plane or other public transportation, can greatly increase your chance of getting and spreading the virus if you are not fully vaccinated. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you delay traveling during this time until you are able to get fully vaccinated.
With summer in full swing, and more and more people now fully vaccinated, many families are starting to weigh their travel options. Is it safe to travel like normal if you’re fully vaccinated? What precautions should you take for children who cannot get vaccinated? Should you take a COVID-19 test before and after you travel, even if you don’t have symptoms? These are some of the most commonly asked questions we receive at CareNow®, so we’re sharing everything you should consider before traveling with your family this summer.
Traveling Vaccinated vs. Unvaccinated
If you are fully vaccinated (meaning it’s been two weeks since you received the last dose of your vaccine), you can travel at low risk to yourself. According to the CDC, those who are fully vaccinated can now travel within the United States without COVID-19 testing or post-travel quarantine as of April 2021; however, you should continue taking COVID-19 precautions during your travel even if you are vaccinated.
Because of other SARS-CoV-2 variants that have been introduced and spread in other countries, the recommendations for international travel differ slightly.
If you are fully vaccinated, you can travel outside of the U.S. without getting tested for COVID-19 (so long as it’s not required by your destination); however, you should still have a negative COVID-19 test if you’re boarding a flight back to the U.S. and then get tested three to five days after you’ve returned from international travel.
It is no longer required for fully vaccinated people who are returning to the U.S. after international travel to self-quarantine unless they are required to do so by a state or local jurisdiction.
So what about those who are not fully vaccinated? And what about children who cannot get vaccinated at this time?
The CDC encourages those traveling with children who cannot get vaccinated, as well as though who are not vaccinated themselves, to follow the travel recommendations listed below.
Check Travel Restrictions
Before you even think about traveling, it’s important that you take a look at the restrictions for the location you’re considering. Some state, local and territorial governments require that you get tested or quarantine prior to traveling. To make sure you have the most up-to-date information, it’s best to check the CDC’s online travel planner where you can search by location.
If you’re planning to travel by plane, you’ll also want to check with the airline you’re flying to see if they require you to submit any health information, vaccine documentation or test results. Some destinations mandate that you’re tested for COVID-19 upon your arrival. If you test positive, you may be forced to isolate yourself for a certain period of time.
Know Your Travel Risk
No matter what the restrictions are at the location you’re wanting to travel to, if you’re traveling unvaccinated, you should be aware of the risk. Any kind of travel puts you at a heightened risk of getting COVID-19, and your risk is directly impacted by the length of your trip and the number of stops along the way, as well as the precautions you take while traveling.
It is highly recommended that you wear a mask that fully covers your nose and mouth any time you are in public settings. If you are traveling on a plane, bus, train or other form of public transportation, it will be required that anyone over two years of age wear a mask.
When possible, keep a distance of at least six feet from anyone not in your direct travel party. This can be difficult, especially in a crowded airport or train station, but it’s important that you try. You should also wash your hands regularly and carry hand sanitizer with you at all times.
Properly Prepare for Your Transportation
The type of transportation you take when traveling will also have an effect on your risk of getting COVID-19. Airports and bus stations are very common places for you to be exposed to the virus, specifically through surfaces and respiratory droplets. Even if you’re driving when you travel, rest stops can pose a great risk as well if you’re not vaccinated.
If you choose to travel by plane, you will have to spend time in both security lines and airport terminals. It can be very difficult for you to avoid close contact in these types of situations. You are also likely to come in contact with surfaces that are frequently touched. When on the plane, do your best to keep your distance from other passengers. If possible, choose a seat without anyone next to it or try to sit next to someone else in your travel party to avoid exposure to additional people.
For bus and train travel, you will likely be forced to sit or stand in close contact with other people for an extended period of time. Avoid touching surfaces as much as you can. This includes kiosks, ticket machines, handrails and benches. If you can, book your tickets for non-peak hours so it’s likely that fewer people will be traveling.
Many people think car travel is the safest way to go, and in most cases, it is. However, you put yourself at risk by stopping for gas, food or bathroom breaks along the way. This exposes you to frequently touched surfaces as well as close contact to other people. Avoid stopping as much as possible by bringing your own food and drinks and making sure you have a full tank of gas prior to leaving (you should still be cautious at any gas station, no matter the location).
Testing Before and After Your Trip
If you decide to travel this summer and are not fully vaccinated, it’s a good idea to get tested with a viral test one to three days before your trip—whether it’s required or not. You should have your negative test results before you travel and keep them with you when you go in case you’re asked to show them. If you test positive, do not travel; instead, isolate yourself, following the CDC’s public health recommendations.
Just as important as testing prior to your trip is getting tested once you return, ideally within three to five days of your trip. It’s best that you self-quarantine for a full seven days after you get home, even if your test does come back negative. If you do not take a viral test, you should plan to self-quarantine for a full 10 days to be safe as you may have been exposed to the virus on your travels.
Where to Get a Rapid COVID-19 Test
If you need to take a COVID-19 test before or after your summer travel, consider visiting your local CareNow®. We offer rapid testing at select locations, and you can have your results within five to 13 minutes. If you have insurance, you should check with your plan to see how much your test will cost. For patients who are self-paying, the cost is $250. Make sure to have your driver’s license and insurance card (if applicable) when you come to get tested.
If you’ve never had a COVID-19 test before, you may be wondering what to expect. When a member of our staff comes to collect your samples, he or she will be dressed in protective attire, a mask and face shield. Most samples are taken from the nose; however, in certain cases, the sample may need to be taken from the back of the throat (similar to a strep test). Your test will only take a few seconds. You can get more information on our COVID-19 testing process by visiting our website.
Before you visit your local CareNow® for a rapid test, check out the Web Check-In® feature on our website. This allows you to check-in prior to your appointment so you don’t have to sit in the lobby while you wait.
Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you.