Travel guidance won't come until more people are vaccinated, CDC says

The CDC declines to issue new travel guidance for vaccinated Americans due to concerns about travel-related surges. By Betsy Klein and Kate Sullivan, CNN

(CNN) -- The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has so far declined to issue new guidance on travel for vaccinated Americans due to concerns about travel-related surges but is "looking forward" to updating guidance once more people get protected.

"What we have seen is that we have surges after people start traveling, we saw it after July 4, we saw it after Labor Day, we saw it after the Christmas holidays," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday in response to a question from CNN's Kaitlan Collins during a Covid-19 briefing.

Walensky said because 90% of people remain unvaccinated they will wait to update guidance until "we have more protection across the communities and across the population."

She declined to provide information for the 10% of Americans who are vaccinated and looking for guidance on whether it is safe for them to travel.

The issue of air travel for the vaccinated has become a hot-button issue, with the industry pushing back against the new CDC guidelines, according to CNN reporting.

In a statement, industry group Airlines For America insists being on board a plane poses a low risk of coronavirus infection because of heavily filtered air and federally mandated mask wearing.

"We remain confident that this layered approach significantly reduces risk," the group said.

The new guidelines issued this week by the CDC say people fully vaccinated against Covid-19 can safely visit with other vaccinated people and small groups of unvaccinated people in some circumstances, but there are still important safety precautions needed.

The new CDC guidance says fully vaccinated people can visit other vaccinated people indoors without masks or physical distancing, visit indoors with unvaccinated people from a single household without masks or physical distancing if the unvaccinated people are at low risk for severe disease, and skip quarantine and testing if exposed to someone who has Covid-19 but are asymptomatic but should monitor for symptoms for 14 days.

The guidance notes that people who are fully vaccinated still need to take precautions in many scenarios. The guidelines say fully vaccinated people must wear a mask and keep good physical distance around the unvaccinated who are at increased risk for severe Covid-19 or if the unvaccinated person has a household member who is at higher risk and wear masks and physically distance when visiting unvaccinated people who are from multiple households.

The CDC defines people who are fully vaccinated as those who are two weeks past their second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines or two weeks past a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The Biden administration has from the beginning pledged to listen to health and medical experts and let science lead their response to the pandemic. White House press secretary Jen Psaki made it clear during a Tuesday White House briefing that the CDC was the one driving the guidelines, not the White House.

"That was a determination made by the CDC. It wasn't driven by or directed by the White House," Psaki said of the CDC guidelines when asked if Biden agreed on not issuing new guidance on travel for people who are fully vaccinated.

Psaki noted the guidance is "just a first step" and said "as more people are vaccinated, they'll look at ways to ease additional restrictions." She noted 90% of the US population still remains unvaccinated.

Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency room physician and former Baltimore health commissioner, told CNN that she believes the CDC is being "overly cautious."

"It just doesn't make sense that you can't travel, especially if you now can get together with loved ones. I think a lot of people are eager to see their grandkids who they don't necessarily live with and so I think it's really important to give the guidance about travel," Wen told CNN's Brooke Baldwin on "CNN Newsroom" this week

Wen, who is also a CNN medical analyst, added that she thinks people who are fully vaccinated should be able to travel "and that's one of those incentives that we can give as a way for restoring freedoms" for those who get vaccinated.

More than 527,900 Americans have died from Covid-19 as of Wednesday afternoon, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The Biden administration is ramping up vaccination efforts, and as of Wednesday afternoon nearly 93.7 million vaccines had been administered, according to the CDC. About 9.7% of the population is fully vaccinated, the CDC says.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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