The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has added 16 international locations to a list of countries with “very high” risk, and has urged Americans to avoid them until further notice.
To be a classified in the Level 4 “high risk” category, a locale must have more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days.
The newly added locations are as follows: Andorra, Curaçao, Gibraltar, Greece, Guadeloupe, Iran, Ireland, Isle of Man, Kazakhstan, Lesotho, Libya, Malta, Martinique, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Martin and US Virgin Islands.
Non-citizens trying to travel to the US from Greece or Ireland have been restricted since 25 January 2021 and are expected to remain in effect due to the Delta variant of the coronavirus.
The CDC's website recommends that travellers forgo international travel unless they have been fully vaccinated, but notes that even the vaccine does not fully eliminate risks for travellers.
“Fully vaccinated travellers are less likely to get and spread Covid-19. However, international travel poses additional risks, and even fully vaccinated travellers might be at increased risk for getting and possibly spreading some Covid-19 variants,” the agency's guidelines say.
The full list of “high risk” countries can be found at the CDC's website.
A little more than a week before the travel guidelines were updated, CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walensky also announced updated masking guidance.
According to Dr Walensky, new research confirms that vaccinated people can still transmit the virus. She said that vaccinated people appear to spread the virus at a slower rate than unvaccinated people, and that current transmission rates are largely indicative of unvaccinated people spreading the virus to other unvaccinated people.
Regardless, the CDC updated its mask guidance to instruct fully vaccinated people to wear masks while indoors until more Americans are vaccinated.
The CDC's new guidelines are a response to the spike of coronavirus cases in the US, primarily caused by a combination of the Delta variant of the virus and exacerbated by the fact that only half the country has chosen to take the coronavirus vaccines.
Despite the growing number of cases, the CDC and the Biden White House have said there will be no federal vaccine mandate, relying on other carrot measures - like outreach and education campaigns - to try to coax those who are ambivalent or outright hostile toward the shot to get inoculated.