What the New CDC Mask Guidelines Mean for Travelers

·3 min read

On Tuesday the Centers for Disease Control recommended fully vaccinated individuals once again wear face masks in public indoors settings when in areas of “substantial or high” rates of COVID-19 transmission. 

The new CDC mask guidelines walk back earlier recommendations from the public health agency, which in May declared it was unnecessary for fully vaccinated individuals to wear a mask inside. The shift comes as many parts of the U.S. are grappling with widespread outbreaks of the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19.

"Information on the Delta variant from several states and other countries indicate that in rare occasions, some vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant may be contagious and spread the virus to others," Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said in a media conference call on Tuesday. Although vaccinated people are capable of spreading the delta variant, Walensky stressed that the vast amount of COVID-19 transmission in the U.S. is still occurring through unvaccinated individuals.

According to the CDC's definition, a county with a substantial transmission rate has 50 to 100 cases per 100,000 over a seven-day period; high transmission is more than 100 cases per 100,000 within seven days. The latest numbers from the agency show that the majority—more than 63 percent—of U.S. counties are currently seeing substantial or high viral transmission. CDC has a full breakdown of every county across the nation, organized in a color-coded map

“We have states reporting over 300 cases in a 7 day period which is an extraordinary amount of viral transmission,” Walensky said. Some cities, such as Los Angeles, had already implemented indoor mask mandates for fully vaccinated residents.

Under the CDC mask guidelines, fully vaccinated travelers planning a domestic trip within wide swaths of the country should be prepared to don a face mask indoors. This includes cities and regions that are popular with summer tourists: Southern California, New York, New Orleans, and destinations throughout the entire state of Florida. Most of Utah, Arizona, and Nevada are also currently seeing COVID transmission rates that would warrant indoor masking under the latest recommendations. In these areas and those with similar transmission statistics, all travelers will want to wear masks when doing activities like eating in an indoor restaurant, visiting a museum, or when inside areas like hotel lobbies or visitor centers.

Throughout the pandemic, face masks have remained mandatory on modes of transportation overseen by the federal government, including on board planes and trains, and inside airports. That regulation, mandated by the TSA, is set to last through at least September 13.

Before traveling to a different city or state, travelers should check the latest COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions at their destination.

According to Walensky, the new guidelines were designed in large part to inform travelers who might be visiting vulnerable family. Masking “is important in the case, for example, of a vaccinated individual who might be going to visit an immunocompromised family member,” she said. "We wanted to make sure they took the precautions necessary to not pass the virus to them."

As the Delta variant continues to proliferate, President Biden earlier this week declined to roll back travel restrictions that ban citizens of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, India, Brazil, China, Iran, and South Africa from entering the U.S.

“This is not a decision that we at CDC have made lightly,” Walensky said. “Not only are people tired, they're frustrated. We have mental health challenges in this country, we have a lot of continued sickness and death in this country. I know in the context of all that, it’s not welcome news that masking is going to be a part of people’s lives who have already been vaccinated.” 

We're reporting on how COVID-19 impacts travel on a daily basis. Find all of our coronavirus coverage and travel resources here.

Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler

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