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No, the CDC did not change its COVID-19 air travel guidance for the public

A misleading tweet suggested the CDC updated its guidelines to permit COVID-19 infected people to fly. The CDC has not actually changed its public travel guidance.

On April 6, a tweet with over 3,600 retweets and more than 6,800 likes, claimed that effective April 7, the CDC “will now allow infectious #COVID19 cases to fly & stop such reporting.” 

The tweet’s author told VERIFY that his tweet was based on a “CDC alert on travel” that was sent via email to health department officials in Virginia. The email was forwarded to him by a Virginia local health department source and was sent to VERIFY for review.

THE QUESTION

Did the CDC change its COVID-19 public domestic air travel guidance?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is false.

No, that is not true. The CDC’s public guidance for domestic air travel has not changed. 

The email alert cited in the tweet was sent to some health departments as a notice of changes in how health departments report individual cases and a positive person’s travel plans to the CDC. The CDC has never had a policy that specifically states COVID-19 infected individuals couldn’t fly.

WHAT WE FOUND

The tweet that was posted on April 6 said the CDC would “discontinue applying health travel restrictions to most COVID-19 cases and contacts with reported air travel.” 

The tweet is missing important context. 

The CDC has not issued any new guidance to the public. What they have done is issued new reporting guidelines to state and local health departments. 

VERIFY spoke to the Fairfax County, Virginia Health Department about this tweet. The claim in the tweet stemmed from an email alert sent to local Virginia health departments. Under the health department guidance, the CDC is discontinuing the use of the “Do Not Board” list in most cases. It also states the health departments can stop reporting the following to the CDC:

  • If a COVID-19 infected person has upcoming air travel
  • If individuals had traveled recently and tested positive after arriving at their destination

A person on the “Do Not Board” list can’t obtain a boarding pass for any flight into, out of, or within the United States. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) enforces this rule. The CDC has never had a policy that specifically did not allow COVID-19 positive individuals to fly, but individual airlines could have conducted their own screening that prevented a person with symptoms from flying (i.e. temperature screening prior to boarding). 

In order to be placed on the “Do Not Board” list, a person would have had to meet criteria outlined by the CDC. The CDC does not place every COVID-19 positive individual on the list. 

Officials with the Fairfax County Health Department explained how the previous guidance for COVID-19 positive case reporting worked, and how it impacted travel for infected individuals. 

Previously, when an individual received a positive COVID-19 result from a doctor’s office or lab, the local health department would be notified, Fairfax County officials told VERIFY. Then, that health department would receive a list of close-contact individuals and encourage them to quarantine. That original positive and close contact data would then be reported to the CDC. 

If the infected person had indicated an intent to travel during the time they were advised to quarantine and the CDC would place that person on the “Do Not Board” list. 

So, now with the new guidance, health departments aren’t required to send the information about an infected person and their upcoming or past travels plans to the CDC.

Because the memo from the CDC did not change any public recommendations, Fairfax County officials told VERIFY that is why the CDC would not publicize this update on their website. A spokesperson with the San Diego County Health Department in California told VERIFY they were also aware of the change in data reporting.

The CDC is still encouraging all individuals to be vaccinated against COVID-19, wear a mask during travel. The CDC is encouraging tests for domestic travel for people who are not vaccinated or someone who had a close contact with someone who tested positive.

“Do not travel if you are sick, tested positive for COVID-19 and haven’t ended isolation, had close contact with a person with COVID-19 and haven’t ended quarantine, or are waiting for results of a COVID-19 test,” the CDC’s website said. 

The CDC did not respond to VERIFY’s request for comment. 

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