The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently moved more countries into the “low-risk” category for international travel—but others have been moved into higher risk categories based on recent COVID-19 statistics. Employers should be aware of changing travel recommendations as they prepare to resume business trips.
On June 7, the CDC updated the criteria it uses to determine international COVID-19 travel risk levels and to better differentiate between countries with severe outbreaks and those with sustained but controlled spread of the coronavirus.
The updated guidance provides specific travel advice for vaccinated and unvaccinated people based on a country’s threat level.
“Fully vaccinated travelers are less likely to get and spread COVID-19. However, international travel poses additional risks, and even fully vaccinated travelers might be at increased risk for getting and possibly spreading some COVID-19 variants,” according to the CDC. “The COVID-19 situation, including the spread of new or concerning variants, differs from country to country. All travelers need to pay close attention to the conditions at their destination before traveling.”
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4 Risk Levels
The CDC has four “travel health notice” levels that are based on the number of COVID-19 cases in each country. The agency recommends that people avoid all travel until they are fully vaccinated and provides additional guidance for travel to places with higher risk levels. Level 1 countries—such as Australia and New Zealand—have been designated as low-risk places. Level 2 countries—such as Finland and Kenya—present a moderate risk. The CDC recommends that unvaccinated travelers who are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 avoid nonessential travel to level 2 destinations. The agency recommends that all nonvaccinated people avoid nonessential travel to level 3 places—including most European countries—and recommends against all travel (regardless of vaccination status) to level 4 countries. Level 4 countries include Brazil, India and Iraq. In the updated guidelines, the CDC moved 33 countries, including Iceland, Israel and Singapore, into the level 1 category.
Neighboring Countries Still Level 3
The CDC still lists Canada and Mexico as level 3 destinations, meaning that they have between 100 to 500 cases per 100,000 residents. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s administration reportedly is considering a phased reopening in late June of the country’s border with the U.S. The U.S. has extended travel restrictions to Canada several times and the border restrictions are currently in effect until June 21.
Some Restrictions Lifted for Vaccinated Travelers
In April, the CDC updated its travel guidance, stating that people who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus can safely resume some travel, so long as they wear a mask in public and take certain other precautions. The updated guidance, which remains in effect, states that for domestic travel, fully vaccinated people do not need to get tested for the coronavirus before or after a trip or isolate upon their return. For international trips, vaccinated travelers do not need to obtain a pre-travel test before departing the U.S. (unless their destination requires it) and do not need to self-quarantine after arriving in the U.S. However, international travelers still must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than three days before boarding a flight to the U.S., and the CDC recommends getting tested again three to five days after entering the country. The agency said unvaccinated people should continue to follow prior guidelines.
How Will ‘Vaccine Passports’ Impact Business Travel?
As COVID-19 vaccines become widely available and businesses look to safely resume travel, employers may be wondering if they can require “vaccine passports”—proof of vaccination—before allowing employees to travel for work. “Simply asking for proof of vaccination for COVID-19 is legally permitted,” said Mark Phillips, an attorney with Reed Smith in Los Angeles. Any follow-up questions, however, such as asking why an unvaccinated employee did not receive a vaccination, could elicit information about a disability and would be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act and other employment laws that require such inquiries to be “job-related and consistent with business necessity.”