Starting next week, the CDC will only classify a destination under its highest "Level 4" warning under "special circumstances."
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated the way it warns against traveling to destinations and countries as the world still grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Going forward, the agency will relax its definition for "Level 4" destinations, which it has used in the past to warn Americans against "very high" levels of COVID-19 transmission, advising travelers to "avoid" going there, the agency announced on Wednesday.

"CDC uses Travel Health Notices to alert travelers and other audiences to health threats around the world and advise on how to protect themselves before, during, and after travel," the agency wrote in its advisory. "With this new configuration, travelers will have a more actionable alert for when they should not travel to a certain destination (Level 4), regardless of vaccination status, until we have a clearer understanding of the COVID-19 situation at that destination."

Starting next week, the CDC will only classify a destination under its highest "Level 4" warning under "special circumstances, such as rapidly escalating case trajectory or extremely high case counts, emergence of a new variant of concern, or healthcare infrastructure collapse." It was not immediately clear which destinations would fit the new description.

Travelers arrive in the international terminal at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) in San Francisco, California, U.S
Credit: David Paul Morris/Getty Images

Over the last few weeks, the CDC has lowered its warning against many places, including several Caribbean islands, but still classifies 89 destinations under "Level 4," encompassing much of Europe. The agency said the new classification system will go into effect on April 18.

Previously, destinations were classified as "Level 4" if there were more than 500 COVID-19 cases reported per 100,000 people over the last 28 days. The agency said it would continue to classify its other levels under the same 28-day case rates.

The decision to change the classification system comes as the CDC extended the federal transportation mask mandate in the United States for two more weeks, citing rising COVID-19 case numbers across the country. The mandate, which was initially set to expire on April 18, has been extended until May 3 so the agency can assess "the potential impact of the rise of cases on severe disease, including hospitalizations and deaths, and healthcare system capacity."

Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. When she's not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.