Today, I get my second dose of the Moderna vaccine. And, I am ready to travel. This COVID vaccine certificate is my ticket to travel. Some say I should. Others disagree. But, I’m heading out in two weeks taking appropriation precautions. These are my personal rules:
- Wear a mask in indoor public situations like libraries, grocery stores, and while traveling on planes, buses and trains.
- Wash my hands regularly or carry hand sanitizer.
- Maintain social distancing when meeting with friends.
We came a long way from even two months ago in winning our battle against COVID. Once, Americans feared the virus. Now, many treat the virus as an irritation. Some predict US herd immunity by the middle of this year. Nice! But, I don’t believe it.
However, after reading about COVID and social actions to suppress it, we should not throw out actions that worked. We shouldn’t toss our masks and start kissing each other. National honesty about this virus helps Americans to determine the best policy.
Some state governments have already abandoned mask rules. Most states have not.
Today, according to the AARP, 33 state governments require people to wear face coverings in public to curb the spread of COVID-19. The District of Columbia and Puerto Rico also have mask orders in place.
To date, six states that had mask mandates covering the general public have lifted them: Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Texas and Wyoming. Arkansas is set to join them at the end of March, with several more states slated to do so in the first half of April.
State mandates vary in details (for example, exemptions for children range in cutoff age from 2 to 12), but broadly speaking, they require masks in indoor public spaces such as restaurants and stores, on public transit and ride-hailing services, and outdoors when unable to maintain 6 feet of distance from others.
Travelers United recommends wearing a mask in public spaces while indoors at least until the end of July. New variants of the virus lurk in the future. The pandemic rages on here in the US, and it may get worse in the near future.
What happens next? Cases could continue to rise in the coming week. Between vaccinations and prior infections, half the country may have some form of immunity to the virus. According to Dr. Ashish Jha, Dean of the Brown School of Public Health, “That still leaves a lot of vulnerable people who can get infected.”
But the success of the country’s ongoing vaccination drive should keep deaths and hospitalizations well below their January peaks. Many of the people at the greatest risk of severe illness have already been inoculated, which means new cases are likely to be concentrated among younger and healthier people.
Domestic travel anticipates growth as vaccinations grow
Domestic travel is already on its way back in terms of vacation travel. Lots of family vacations and Spring Break travel have taken place. Most airlines have eliminated their “empty-middle-seat promotions” and today they are filling every seat on planes. For domestic travel, Travelers United is expecting an excellent holiday travel season.
But, business travel lags behind leisure travel. Travelers United worked with a group of travel experts and predicted an ultimate drop in business travel of between 19 and 39 percent.
…we took a deep dive into each category of travel to see how they would be affected by changes in technology. Past experience showed that technological changes such as fax machines, computers, cell phones, and so on, did not dilute the need for business travel. But, today’s changes seemed different. Not only was technology improving, but work changes were getting established and habits were changing.
Bottom line: Don’t expect full domestic travel, both leisure and business, to return this year.
International travel will take four to six months, at least
Europe’s control of the coronavirus struggles with hot-spots and slow vaccination roll-outs. Reports indicate that the US may lift the travel ban with Europe by mid-May. However, we expect that the ban will probably be lifted by the end of June at the earliest. High rates of COVID-19 infection and newly developing variants still exist.
Reports directly from contacts in Italy and Spain reveal lockdowns within regions still in effect. A look at a March 2021 map shows large swaths of Europe still registering in the top two levels of COVID-19 (the red areas). The European restrictions are far more severe than any kind of lockdown here in the US. The biggest concern in Canada and European countries is that the US will push to open travel too soon. There is no euphoria in Europe at the moment, according to Travelers United.
When considering restrictions on non-European countries the travel issues become more complex. The EU site country list of planned reopenings for travel still does not include the US. And, at the moment, European countries find themselves still banned from the US list.
…the EU is now requesting that all member states require travelers entering Europe to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test taken no more than 72 hours prior to departure. Travelers into the EU may also be required to quarantine, participate in contact tracing efforts, and submit to additional COVID-19 testing for a period of up to 14 days after arrival.
A COVID vaccine certificate may be a ticket to travel anywhere
With the US levels of vaccinations, some European countries welcome immunized Americans traveling on vacations. Iceland, Estonia, Georgia, Slovenia, and Greece issued rules for American visitors. Iceland also allows travelers who have been previously infected with COVID-19 to enter the country without quarantine and testing. And, Greece requires visitors to register to get a Quick Response (QR) code.
A COVID vaccine certificate, EU’s Digital Green Certificate, has been actively discussed in the European Union. However, their use by American travelers is not in the plans for this year. Of course, we expect some countries with good vaccination protocols to negotiate separate deals for their citizens.
Charlie Leocha is the President of Travelers United. He has been working in Washington, DC, for the past 11 years with Congress, the Department of Transportation and industry stakeholders on travel issues. He was the first consumer representative to the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections appointed by the Secretary of Transportation from 2012 through 2018.