Myths and truths about traveling in the midst of the pandemic

Health authorities answer some of the frequently asked questions from travelers during the COVID-19 emergency.

As we are all flooded with loads of information about the pandemic and its effect on all areas of our lives, we’ve highlighted some general doubts about traveling in this new environment. It is important to remember that the COVID-19 pandemic is a rapidly evolving situation, and guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are frequently updated.

Should I get a COVID-19 test before I travel?

The CDC recommends that all travelers, whether national or international, get a viral test for COVID-19, 1 to 3 days before traveling. This is now compulsory on international flights to the US (this does not include Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands and other US jurisdictions). As we recently noted, there are states that have their own protocol regarding the requirement for COVID-19 testing for travelers. For added security, we recommend checking with the airline or the CDC website for restrictions, if any, of the destination to which you are traveling. 

What risk of contagion exists inside the airplanes?

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), “the risk of contracting COVID-19, when wearing a mask on board is very low.” In fact, “there have been millions of flights since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, resulting in only a few confirmed cases of in-flight transmission.”

The organization states that this is mainly due to:

  • The position in which the passengers sit – since they are facing forward most of the time and not facing the person sitting next to them.
  • Seatbacks – the height of the seatbacks works as a kind of barrier against the virus. 
  • High airflow rate – Research has shown that airflow in an airplane (from ceiling to floor) is less conductive to droplet propagation than similar environments or modes of transportation.
  • Air Exchange – Modern aircrafts offer high airflow and replacement rates, combined with hospital grade High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters that are 99.9 +% effective at removing viruses, bacteria and fungi. The cabin air is exchanged every 2-3 minutes.
  • Mandatory use of masks on board – According to a study by the University of Edinburgh, masks can limit the spread of saliva droplets by more than 90% when you breathe, speak, cough or sneeze.

Should I have tests before and after traveling even though I have been vaccinated?

The CDC recommendation is yes, as this helps reduce the risk of further spread of variant strains. Receiving the vaccine protects a person from getting seriously ill, but most vaccines do not prohibit getting the virus all together. This means that people could catch the virus and transmit it to others, despite being vaccinated. Therefore, vaccinated individuals should follow the same recommendations and precautions that the CDC provides for travelers. 

For more information about travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit the CDC webpage. You can also access the Travel Planner tool, which offers more accurate information specific to the location in the United States you want to visit.

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