US authorities have announced that effective Jan. 26, all persons traveling by air to the US must present a negative coronavirus disease (COVID-19) polymerase chain reaction (PCR) or antigen test taken no more than 72 hours before departure from their destination. The new order expands a previously implemented restriction applying to travelers from the UK to all international air passengers.
The measure is in addition to the existing pandemic-related entry ban for most nonresident foreign nationals who have been in the UK and Ireland, as well as Brazil, China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau), Iran, Ireland, and the European Schengen Area within the previous 14 days. US citizens and legal residents who have traveled to a country on the restricted list within 14 days before their return can enter the country; authorities urge such individuals to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for the affected country. Officials have added exceptions for nonresident foreign nationals arriving from the Schengen Area, the UK, or Ireland. Business travelers, students, investors, academics, and journalists, among others, may qualify for a national interest exception but must contact US diplomatic offices to apply.
Officials will also continue to enforce the closure of the nation's land borders with Canada and Mexico to all nonessential travel through at least Jan. 21. The closures, which began March 21, do not affect trade, movement of essential goods and workers, transport of food or medicine, or transit by cargo trucks. US citizens and legal residents returning to the country and individuals traveling to attend educational institutions are also exempt.
US authorities are maintaining risk assessment levels for travelers entering the country from international destinations. Under the current guidelines, the CDC uses a four-level system to categorize the risk of COVID-19 in countries and territories worldwide based on the number of cases in the past 28 days.
Regardless of the level of the destination, authorities recommend the following steps for individuals in the US who plan to travel abroad:
- Get a COVID-19 test between 1-3 days before traveling abroad, and do not travel if they are still waiting for the test result, tested positive, or are sick.
- Get a COVID-19 test between 1-3 days before returning to the US.
Additionally, officials advise individuals in the US to follow these recommendations, depending on the risk levels in the country they intend to travel to:
- Level 4 - Very High: avoid all travel
- Level 3 - High: avoid nonessential travel; those at higher risk of severe illness, avoid all travel
- Level 2 - Moderate: those at higher risk of severe illness should avoid nonessential travel
- Level 1 - Low: no limitations to travel
Recommendations for travelers entering the US also change depending on the risk level of the country they departed. Authorities advise those traveling from destinations categorized as Level 4, Level 3, and Level 2 risk of COVID-19 to get tested within 3-5 days upon arrival in the US and stay at home for seven days, or to stay at home for 10 days upon arrival if they do not get tested.
As of Jan. 12, most countries and territories around the world are at Level 4, including most of Europe, most of Latin America, and Canada, as well as the US territories of Guam, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. Only Grenada, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Lucia, and Turks and Caicos Island are at Level 3. There are 11 countries and territories at Level 2: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Equatorial Guinea, Faroe Islands, Guernsey, Hong Kong, Mauritius, Mongolia, Rwanda, Seychelles, and South Korea.
For travelers entering from countries and territories categorized as Level 1 - Low risk of COVID-19, officials recommend mask-wearing and maintaining social distancing from others upon arrival in the US. If travelers recently participated in high-risk activities - such as attending a mass gathering, being in a large crowd at a restaurant or bar, or traveling on a cruise - at a country at Level 1, authorities urge them to get tested 3-5 days upon return and remain at home for seven days, or 10 days if they do not get tested. As of Jan. 12, there are 45 countries and territories at Level 1, including Australia, China, Cote d'Ivoire, New Zealand, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Domestic MeasuresAuthorities advise residents nationwide to avoid gatherings and crowded places, maintain a distance of at least 1.8 meters (6 feet) from others when in public, and wear protective facemasks covering the mouth and nose. Officials advise persons 65 years of age or older and those with underlying health conditions to remain at home whenever possible.
State and local authorities have taken measures stricter than those at the federal level. Several states have imposed additional travel restrictions, including for travelers entering from other US states or international destinations; the measures in many cases involve a 14-day self-quarantine or proof of having tested negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of arrival into a new state. Most states have some limitations on business activities, and many of them have further tightened the restrictions since mid-November due to increases in COVID-19 activity.
Authorities at the federal or local levels could reimpose, extend, further ease, or otherwise amend any restrictions with little-to-no notice, depending on disease activity over the coming weeks.
Exercise basic health precautions, especially frequent handwashing with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable. Practice good coughing/sneezing etiquette (i.e., covering coughs and sneezes with a disposable tissue, maintaining distance from others, and washing hands).
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