CDC: Add COVID Testing to Your Holiday Travel Plans

Stay home this holiday season, but if you must travel, get tested both before and after your trip, CDC officials said at a news conference on Wednesday.

People who insist on traveling should be tested for SARS-CoV-2 with a “viral test” 1-3 days before travel, and 3-5 days after travel. After traveling, people should avoid “non-essential activities” for 7 days.

If someone does not get tested before or after traveling, they should avoid “non-essential activities” for 10 days, CDC officials said. Better yet: just don’t go anywhere.

“Cases are rising, hospitalizations are increasing, deaths are increasing. We need to try to bend the curve to stop this exponential increase,” said Henry Walke, MD, CDC’s COVID-19 incident manager. “Testing does not eliminate all risk, but it does make travel safer.”

Cindy Friedman, MD, chief of CDC’s Traveler’s Health Branch, said travel volume was high during Thanksgiving, and that even a few resulting infections could further the virus’s spread. Officials have been warning of a “surge on surge” emanating from holiday travel.

A reporter noted that the agency’s last guidance about Thanksgiving travel was released a mere week prior to the holiday, and asked if the CDC waited too long to issue those recommendations. Walke said the agency is issuing the new guidance now, weeks prior to the next big holiday travel period, “to provide additional consideration for the American public, healthcare providers, and public health administrators.”

“Our hope is that before the upcoming holiday season, people hear the message about staying home and protecting themselves,” he said.

Shorter Quarantine Options Clarified

As previous reports had predicted, CDC officials also unveiled more nuanced COVID-19 quarantine recommendations for close contacts of COVID-19 cases. The agency offered two alternate quarantine periods: 7 days after a negative test or 10 days if the person is not tested at all. Previously, the recommendation was a blanket 14 days’ isolation for exposed individuals.

However, Walke stressed that the agency still recommends the 14-day quarantine as the best way to stop the spread of the virus, and said that people should continue to monitor symptoms for a full 14 days, regardless of quarantine length.

The two additional options were added based on “extensive modeling data,” including from academic medical centers, as well as pre-print websites. John Brooks, MD, CDC’s chief medical officer for COVID-19 response, said that with the 10-day period, residual risk of transmission is reduced to 1%, with an upper limit of risk at 12%.

“Ten days is where risk got into a sweet spot that we liked,” he said.

For 7 days of quarantine, residual risk of transmission with a negative test was 5%, with an upper limit of risk around 10%, Brooks added. Either a PCR test or a viral antigen test can be used for discontinuing quarantine.

Walke said the agency looked for an option that doesn’t require testing so as to ease the burden on public health departments. “Testing is difficult in some locations,” he said.

“Our public health partners have options to choose something to suit their community … based on the resources they have available,” Walke noted.

Another reason for the added recommendations was to increase quarantine compliance. Walke said they were hearing anecdotally from partners in public health departments that people were feeling pressure from their employers and schools to discontinue quarantine early.

He added the hope that it will aid contact tracing efforts.

“If a person is more willing to be compliant with a shorter quarantine,” it may “increase the willingness of people to pick up the phone when public health calls them,” Walke said.

Last Updated December 02, 2020

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    Molly Walker is an associate editor, who covers infectious diseases for MedPage Today. She has a passion for evidence, data and public health. Follow

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