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The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has added two destinations to its “high” category for Covid-19 risk – including a Caribbean nation popular for its beaches.
But perhaps more notable this week is the news that two destinations in stubbornly high Europe were downgraded to “moderate” risk.
The Scandinavian cultural powerhouse of Sweden and heavily forested and historic Romania in Eastern Europe provide two bright spots on a continent that has been mired in the “high” risk category.
The CDC overhauled its ratings system for assessing Covid-19 risk for travelers in April.
Level 3, or “high,” is now the top rung in terms of risk level and applies to places that have had more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days. Level 2 and Level 1 are considered “moderate” and “low” risk, respectively.
Level 4, previously the highest risk category, is now reserved only for special circumstances, such as extremely high case counts, emergence of a new variant of concern or health care infrastructure collapse. Under the new system, no destinations have been placed at Level 4 so far.
The “Level 3: Covid-19 High” category now applies to countries that have had more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days.
• New Caledonia
• United Arab Emirates
Botswana, a landlocked safari favorite, moved all the way up from Level 1 while Cape Verde, off the west coast of Africa in the North Atlantic, moved up from Level 2.
In a weekly update with little movement overall, Monday’s move to Level 3 is a big jump up for Kuwait, which had been at Level 1. The Dominican Republic moved up from Level 2.
More on Level 3
Much of Europe has been stubbornly lodged at Level 3 for months with the summer travel season in full swing. As of June 27, the following popular European destinations were among those remaining at Level 3:
• The Netherlands
• United Kingdom
Those aren’t the only high-profile spots that find themselves at Level 3. Numerous other destinations around the world are among those in the “high” risk category, including the following:
• Costa Rica
• South Korea
The CDC advises that you get up to date with your Covid-19 vaccines before traveling to a Level 3 destination. Being “up to date” means you have had not only the full initial vaccinations but any boosters for which you’re eligible.
Destinations carrying the “Level 2: Covid-19 Moderate” designation reported 50 to 100 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days. The CDC moved four places to this level on Monday:
• Saudi Arabia
The move was not good news for Colombia, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, which had been at Level 1.
You can view the CDC’s risk levels for any global destination on the agency’s travel recommendations page.
In its broader travel guidance, the CDC has recommended avoiding all international travel until you are fully vaccinated.
To be listed as “Level 1: Covid-19 Low,” a destination must have had 49 or fewer new cases per 100,000 residents over the past 28 days. No new destinations were added to the category on June 27.
Both nations had been at Level 2.
The move was particularly good news for the Caribbean’s tiny Dutch island of Sint Eustatius, which had been at Level 3.
Last week, El Salvador, Fiji and Moldova had been at Level 2 while Africa’s Guinea and Tanzania were “unknown.”
Finally, there are the destinations the CDC has deemed to be of “unknown” risk because of a lack of information. Usually, but not always, these are small, remote places or places with ongoing warfare or unrest.
The CDC advises against travel to these places precisely because the risks are unknown. Other destinations in this category that typically draw more tourist attention include French Polynesia, Macau and the Maldives.
A medical expert weighs in on risk levels
Transmission rates are just “one guidepost” for travelers’ personal risk calculations, according to CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen.
We’ve moved into “a phase in the pandemic where people need to make their own decisions based on their medical circumstances as well as their risk tolerance when it comes to contracting Covid-19,” said Wen, who is an emergency physician and professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.
There are other factors to weigh in addition to transmission rates, according to Wen.
“Another is what precautions are required and followed in the place that you’re going and then the third is what are you planning to do once you’re there,” she said.
“Are you planning to visit a lot of attractions and go to indoor bars? That’s very different from you’re going somewhere where you’re planning to lie on the beach all day and not interact with anyone else. That’s very different. Those are very different levels of risk.”
Vaccination is the most significant safety factor for travel, since unvaccinated travelers are more likely to become ill and transmit Covid-19 to others, Wen said.
And it’s also important to consider what you would do if you end up testing positive away from home.
While US-bound travelers no longer have to present a negative Covid-19 test to get home, the CDC still advises testing before boarding flights back to the States and not traveling if you are sick.
“Of course, if people have symptoms or exposure while traveling, they need to get tested, and if they test positive, to follow CDC’s isolation guidelines,” Wen told CNN Travel recently.
If you’re concerned about a travel-specific health situation not related to Covid-19, check here.
Top image: Twilight over Riddarholmen Church in Stockholm, Sweden. (K’Nub/Moment RF/Getty Images)