This week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) moved not one, not two, not three, but 22 destinations up to Level 4 on its Covid-19 Travel Recommendations. They didn’t do that just to commemorate the start of 2022. No, the changes reflect the fact that many countries are experiencing Covid-19 surges right now, fueled in part by the Omicron variant. The CDC has been advising everyone to avoid travelling to all Level 4 destinations. That’s everyone, regardless of your vaccination status or how badly you want to play in a tennis tournament at one of those destinations.
The CDC Covid-19 risk levels are like the number of times a ferret smacks you in the groin with a plunger. The higher the number, the worse. Level 4 is the highest of the CDC’s four Covid-19 risk levels, corresponding to a “very high” risk. Nineteen of the 22 destinations moved to Level 4 from Level 3 (”high Covid-19 risk”) including Albania, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bermuda, Bolivia, Cape Verde, Egypt, Guyana, Israel, Panama, Qatar, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Sint Maarten, Suriname, Turks and Caicos Islands, and Uruguay. Grenada and São Tomé and Príncipe jumped up from Level 2 (”moderate Covid-19 risk”) while the British Virgin Islands leapt up from Level 1 (”low Covid-19 risk”).
So you may want to refrain from going to Turks as well as Caicos unless you absolutely have to do so. The same applies to Argentina, no matter how much you want to see a forest that’s shaped like a guitar. And if you are planning on invading Australia, based on what you may have heard from Candace Owens, don’t.
Of course, being at Level 4 doesn’t mean that a destination has “fallen” or is necessarily in bad Covid-19 shape. In fact, chances are a destination at Level 4 may have a Covid-19 situation that’s still substantially better than that of the United States.
Rather, a destination’s CDC level depends solely on how many new Covid-19 cases have been occurring and not deaths, hospitalizations, or any other measures. As I have described before for Forbes, a destination reaches Level 4 when it has 500 or more new reported Covid-19 cases per 100,000 residents over the past 28 days (or about 2.55 Scaramuccis). Some destinations now on Level 4 such as Australia (with over 78% of its population fully vaccinated) and Israel (with over 65% fully vaccinated) have higher vaccination rates than the U.S. (about 63.5% fully vaccinated). The impact of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) may be considerably less among populations that have high vaccination coverages.
Being at Level 4 is clearly worse than being at Level 3. No one who isn’t shaped like a ball and covered with spikes should say, “more Covid-19 cases please.” However, Level 3 is not exactly a walk in the park either, especially if you are someone who hasn’t gotten the shot. The CDC recommends all unvaccinated individuals avoid travel to Level 3 destinations. A destination is at Level 3 when the number of new reported Covid-19 cases over the past 28 days is between 100 and 499.
The number of 22 new additions to the CDC’s Level 3 was 22 too, which sounds a little like saying “2022.” While two destinations, Malawi and Mozambique, fell from Level 4, the Covid-19 situations got worse for the 20 other new additions to Level 3. A little over half of the 20 new additions, Costa Rica, Cuba, Gabon, Jamaica, Madagascar, Mauritania, Nigeria, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Togo, Fiji, and Kuwait, moved up from Level 2. The remaining destinations, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Morocco, Uganda, Saba, Saint Barthelemy, Sint Eustatius, Paraguay, and the Philippines, jumped two levels from Level 1. This has left close to 60 destinations at Level 3.
If you are unvaccinated yet still really want to travel abroad, stick to Level 2 or Level 1 destinations. However, the CDC says that you should still avoid traveling to Level 2 destinations if you are unvaccinated and at higher risk for bad Covid-19 outcomes. Neglecting such a warning could be akin to not wearing any clothes and having strong magnets attached to your genitals. Level 2 means that the destination has had 50 to 99 new reported Covid-19 cases per 100,000 residents over the past 28 days. Four destinations, Djibouti, India, Kosovo, and Montserrat, jumped up to Level 2 from Level 1.
The CDC offers no specific warnings against traveling to Level 1 destinations, assuming that they will allow you in their countries. They do say “make sure you are fully vaccinated before travel to these destinations.” After all, it’s better to be protected than not protected. Level 1 destinations, such as Taiwan and Japan, have had fewer than 50 new reported Covid-19 cases per 100,000 residents over the past 28 days.
In general, this may not be the best time to travel internationally. The U.S. and other countries have been experiencing Winter surges of Covid-19, further fueled by the Omicron variant. Moreover, the levels of different locations on the CDC’s Covid-19 Travel Recommendations list have been shifting as frequently as fashion on a Kardashian.
So unless everything is flexible and refundable, you may want to hold off on making travel plans for the rest of the Winter. In the third full week of 2022, the number of the week was 22, as in 22 new destinations to Level 4 and 22 new destinations to Level 3 on the CDC Covid-19 Travel Recommendations. Who knows what the numbers will be in the coming weeks?