CDC Lowers Travel Risk Levels For 110 Countries, And US State Department Will Too

In April the U.S. State Department issued ‘Do Not Travel’ warnings for 80% of the world’s countries due to coronavirus risk. They suddenly discovered the pandemic more than three months into 2021.

What happened is that they conformed their travel warnings to CDC guidance, and the CDC guidance itself made little sense failing to account for up-to-date levels of virus transmission or the kinds of environments Americans would be exposed to on the ground. They even issued their highest warning level for travel to… Antarctica.

This week the CDC discovered vaccines and updated its risk levels for 110 countries.

  • France, South Africa, Canada, Mexico, Russia, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, and Italy are now Level 3.

  • Lowest-risk countries in the CDC analysis include Singapore, Israel, South Korea, Iceland, Belize and Albania.

The U.S. CDC has also reduced its own risk from level 4 to level 3, and the State Department says it’s updating its travel advisories to correspond with CDC guidance.

The CDC uses reported cases to determine risk level, despite wildly varying levels of testing across countries. However they’ve achieved the reduction in risk level not because of fewer reported cases, but because they’ve changed their methodology:

The agency said the new criteria for a Level 4 “avoid all travel” recommendation has changed from 100 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 to 500 cases per 100,000.

While some argue that a reassessment of risk levels by the federal government is an important step towards normalcy, Americans have largely ignore these warnings. US travel to Mexico is at an all-time peak, and the credibility of elites is not. Still, it’s likely important for companies – which are increasingly woke in their politics but conservative in their risk-tolerance – to be willing to send travelers back out on the road.

The U.S. government acknowledges it is ‘discussing’ the absurdity of travel bans on non-residents coming to the United States who have been in places like China, the U.K. and Ireland, and Schengen Europe in the past 14 days – when travel warning levels are reducing or low, and when other countries have far greater levels of virus and do not face travel bans.

Asked why the United States is maintaining the warnings even though some countries now have low infection rates subject to the restrictions, while others with high rates are exempt, CDC Director Rochelle Wallensky said on Tuesday the issue is subject to “an interagency conversation, and we are looking at the data in real time as to how we should move forward with that.”

In this case ‘real time’ appears to refer to it being a current discussion as opposed to a fast one, since the data on this has been clear for a year in some cases. Indeed the U.S., U.K., Canada, Mexico and Europe are forming a ‘working group’ to talk about lifting travel restrictions.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The CDC seems to be trying to make their data fit the narrative based on an expected outcome that they or the people they are connected want. It’s also the reason why many haven’t trusted their version of “science” throughout the last year. It’s not unlike being told for the last 12 months that airplanes are super safe because the air is so clean but yet now it seems to be the last place that masks are required. “Science” again at play?

  2. It’s too bad that this blog post doesn’t actually point directly to the CDC criteria, but rather to some random summary article. It’s not hard to find the CDC criteria on their website – took me all of 30 seconds.

    The key threshold missing from this explanation is that the CDC is using a 28 day window for positive test rates / 100,000 people. The case rates are dropping rapidly, but that 28 day window naturally means there is a (cautious) multi-week lag between current infection rates and when a country’s risk level will change.

    The NYTimes Covid tracker says that the current rate in the US is ~5 cases/100,000 people. Even if that holds flat and doesn’t continue to drop, we’ll be in Level 1 (<50 cases/100,000) pretty soon.

  3. As though anyone is surprised, governments do not often move very fast. Of course “warnings” are just that and only the credulous take them without further study. While my travel risk tolerance is particularly high–I guess not many people would take a bus from the D.R. to see Haiti or be thrilled wandering around the back country of the Emirates–the fact is during the past year Americans could and certainly did go from the U.S. to many places that would have them. (During the worst of this period I was in the D.R. twice.) Still, removing the label might help get travel fully going again. Maybe they’ll even rethink the purpose (?) of requiring testing before reentry. That always seemed a bit like locking your front door after the windows were broken out.

  4. Good to see them take a step toward restoring some degree of reliability to their guidelines, which have been blatantly silly in several ways. Still a ways to go, as noted. Let vaccinated people back in without a test. As long as vaccinated and unvaccinated are treated the same it’s a disincentive to vaccination

  5. The CDC has done a horrific job with Covid since the beginning, and the absurdities never stop.

    For travelers, the only thing we need them to do is eliminate the requirement that Americans get a Covid test before reentering the country. That is a huge and entirely unnecessary travel hassle.

  6. Would like for testing requirement to come home to be eliminated, especially for citizens and especially for those that are vaccinated. Getting tests around the world is just a huge racket. Places just charge whatever they want because they know people need them.

  7. Turns out The Science The New Messiah tells us to follow is Political Science. Who woulda thought?

  8. @alohadavekennedy
    Yeah, like the old Messiah Chump knew what he was talking about.
    Did you swallow some bleach or did you stick a light bulb down your ignorant throat?
    Nothing like a “Chump Fool” still serving the biggest jerk on the planet.

  9. This is such bs…I have flight June 21st for Ord to Paris. I connect in Zurich. And change planes. Switzerland says I can’t come in This is such bs.

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