Labor Day: Should vaccinated, unvaccinated travel amid COVID

Motorists head west along Interstate 70 to get an early start on the Fourth of July holiday weekend Thursday, July 1, 2021, near Golden, Colo. With COVID restrictions being eased, travelers are expected to be on the roads in spite of gasoline prices topping the $4-mark across the country. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Motorists head west along Interstate 70 to get an early start on the Fourth of July holiday weekend Thursday, July 1, 2021, near Golden, Colo. With COVID restrictions being eased, travelers are expected to be on the roads in spite of gasoline prices topping the $4-mark across the country. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)


Labor Day weekend is just around the corner — but we’re still in a pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautioned hopeful travelers during a press briefing on Tuesday.

And that means you should still take certain precautions — vaccinated or otherwise.

“First and foremost, if you’re unvaccinated, we would recommend not traveling,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at the White House COVID-19 Response Team briefing.

Walensky added that people who are fully vaccinated and wearing masks can travel, but should weigh the risks of doing so first.

“If gathering with family or friends, remember that spending time outside with others who are vaccinated will help to prevent transmission,” Walensky said. “Throughout the pandemic we have seen that the vast majority of transmission takes place among unvaccinated people in closed, indoor settings.”

“Second, when in public indoor settings, please wear a mask — vaccinated or unvaccinated,” she said.

The Mayo Clinic also suggested in June that people with weakened immune systems take extra precautions regardless of their vaccination status, including wearing masks, avoiding congregated areas and moving social gatherings outdoors.

And Dr. Marybeth Sexton, an assistant professor of medicine at Emory University in Atlanta, told TODAY that heightened coronavirus spread as the holiday nears is “really unfortunate” — and offered a suggestion on how to make your celebrations a bit safer.

“I think as a general rule, avoiding large gatherings right now, when we’ve got health care systems that are really at capacity is the smart thing to do,” Sexton said.

If you do travel and are unvaccinated, the CDC recommends you:

  • Get tested for COVID-19 between one to three days before traveling
  • Self-quarantine for a week after you return and get tested within five days — or self-quarantine for 10 days if you aren’t tested
  • Avoid people at high-risk for severe COVID-19 for two weeks after returning

Vaccinated people are only urged to get tested for COVID-19 after travel if exhibiting symptoms.

The CDC’s Labor Day travel guidance comes as concerns over the highly transmissible delta variant continue to loom. The variant has driven an increase in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths over the last several months.

Prompted by the delta variant, the CDC revised its face mask guidance in late July to recommend that people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 wear masks in public, indoor settings in areas with “substantial and high transmission” of the coronavirus. Unvaccinated people are also urged to wear masks in crowded outdoor settings and indoor public settings.

The Transportation Security Administration announced it requires masks for all travelers on “airports, onboard commercial aircraft, on over-the-road buses, and on commuter bus and rail systems through January 18, 2022.” Those with certain disabilities and under the age of two are exempt from the requirement.

The daily average for hospitalized COVID-19 patients exceeded 100,000 last week, a number that rivals last winter’s surge, when most Americans were not yet eligible for vaccination, The New York Times reported.

There has also been increased concern among experts about the possibility of more infections among children, especially as millions return to in-person schooling. Children under 12 remain ineligible for coronavirus vaccines.

The American Academy of Pediatrics said in a recent report that about 204,000 children tested positive for COVID-19 between Aug. 19 and Aug. 26, marking the second week with child cases at the level of the winter surge for 2020-2021.

The report added that though severe illness due to COVID-19 appears to be rare in children, there is “an urgent need to collect more data on longer-term impacts of the pandemic on children,” including how the virus may damage children’s long-term physical, emotional or mental health.

Hospitals around the country have also struggled under the pressure of caring for more COVID-19 patients. As of Sept. 2, Georgia, Texas, Florida and Arkansas had less than 10% of their total number of ICU beds available, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Just under 53% of Americans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Sept. 1, according to the CDC, with about 62% of Americans receiving at least one dose.

Vaccinated individuals who still choose to travel for the holiday may have to contend with unpredictable levels of road traffic. The American Automobile Association said that although it has not created a formal travel forecast for the holiday in “many years,” roads will probably be the most crowded on Thursday and Friday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. as commuter traffic mingles with holiday traffic, Fox News reported.

Sexton had a word of advice for those frustrated with another holiday marred by COVID-19 concerns.

“It’s a bad combination of the delta variant, not having enough people vaccinated, and having kids back in schools. It really is suddenly important to be careful like we were talking about a year ago as opposed to a couple months ago,” Sexton told TODAY. “If people are feeling bad about the fact that there’s another holiday where we have to take these kinds of precautions … that should definitely be an impetus to go get a vaccine if you’re not vaccinated yet.”

Vandana Ravikumar is a McClatchy Real-Time reporter. She grew up in northern Nevada and studied journalism and political science at Arizona State University. Previously, she reported for USA Today, The Dallas Morning News, and Arizona PBS.