The holidays are traditionally the most-traveled time of year for U.S. residents. Last year, even amid a surge in COVID infections, the Transportation Security Administration reported 15 billion trips made by people traveling between 50 to 500 miles, using all forms of transportation.

More travel is expected this year, including international travel, as countries around the world begin to loosen their COVID-related travel restrictions. But late last month, travel concerns emerged afresh as a new variant known as Omicron was first identified by scientists.

“Omicron is named a ‘variant of concern’ by the World Health Organization, and is potentially more contagious than previous variants,” said Dr. Dali Fan, a clinical professor at UC Davis Health Science. “Information about the Omicron variant is still emerging, but from what we do know, caution and careful monitoring are important.”

The first confirmed case of the Omicron variant in the U.S. was identified at the end of November in San Francisco, in a person who recently traveled internationally. 

President Joe Biden called the variant “a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” and has imposed travel restrictions on people traveling into the US from foreign countries. Proof of a negative test regardless of vaccination status is required within one day of departure for all passengers traveling to the US, effective Dec. 6.

Additionally, several countries have imposed or tightened their COVID-19-related travel restrictions. India, for example, will impose further testing and surveillance on travelers from high-risk countries, including the United Kingdom, Brazil, Bangladesh, China, and Mauritius, among others.

U.S. travelers will have to pay attention to restrictions by different countries.

The U.S. government had earlier advised people to restrict travel to Mexico unless absolutely necessary. In November, it issued a new advisory: all non-immigrant, non-U.S. citizen air travelers to the U.S. over the age of two are required to be fully vaccinated and to provide proof of vaccination status prior to boarding an airplane to the United States.

Similar to travelers to India, U.S. citizens and Legal Permanent Residents traveling to Mexico who are not fully vaccinated will need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test one day before their flight. Vaccinated travelers to the United States will need to provide either proof of vaccination or of a negative COVID-19 test three days before their flight.

In this FAQ, Dr. Dali Fan provides guidance for those who choose to travel during the holiday season.

EMS: What about domestic travel? Are some modes safer than others?

The CDC’s domestic travel guidance mostly aligns with their international guidelines: wait to travel until you get vaccinated, check the COVID-19 situation of your destination, wear a mask and cancel plans if you become sick or are exposed to COVID-19.

If you are not fully vaccinated and must travel, get tested both before and after your trip (see the end of this document for details or visit: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/travel-during-covid19.html

Generally speaking, passengers are at low risk of contracting the novel coronavirus while flying, but the COVID-19 virus can—and has—spread on planes at a low rate. https://www.advisory.com/daily-briefing/2020/09/22/covid-flights#

Obviously, driving yourself is the safest.

EMS: Would you recommend getting a booster before traveling? How long before traveling to get the optimal protection?

Yes, a booster is recommended to give yourself boosted protection. The COVID-19 neutralizing antibody levels started to rise within a few days of the booster shot. Schedule your booster shot two weeks before you are set to travel – this will give the booster time to be most effective. 

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