The CDC’s latest travel guidelines, explained

Illustration of glass of wine with a mask on it
(Ross May / Los Angeles Times; Getty Images)

This story is part of a package on holiday travel.

The world is full of uncertainty these days. But if your family is thinking about gathering for the holidays with friends or relatives, the Centers for Disease Control has some questions and answers that might help you stay safe.

The agency, which has been urging Americans to stay close to home for months, updated its advice Thursday to an even blunter message: Stay home for Thanksgiving.


“Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year,” the CDC said. Its statement included several questions for families and individuals to ask themselves.

If the answer to any of them is “yes,” the agency said, “you should consider making other plans, such as hosting a virtual gathering or delaying your travel.”

The questions are:

  • During the 14 days before your travel, have you or those you are visiting had close contact with people they don’t live with?
  • Do your plans include traveling by bus, train or air, which might make staying six feet apart difficult?
  • Are you traveling with people who don’t live with you?

If you choose to travel or hold a gathering for Thanksgiving, the CDC offers this advice: Check local and state travel restrictions first, get a flu shot before departing, always wear a mask in public, stay at least six feet from anyone who does not live with you, and wash your hands and use hand sanitizer often. Avoid touching your mask and face as much as possible. Bring extra face coverings and hand sanitizer and be prepared to delay your travel.

If you will be a Thanksgiving guest, the CDC recommends, bring your own food, drinks, plates, cups and utensils, stay away from food preparation areas and employ single-use options, like salad dressing and condiment packets and disposable food containers, plates and utensils.

Experts urge travelers to avoid ride share, but if you have to use one, be aware of these guidelines. For example, Uber requires passengers to wear masks and Lyft forbids passengers from sitting in the front seat.

If you’re hosting for the holiday, the CDC said, you’re increasing risk with every person you bring in from outside your household. If you’re not willing to celebrate virtually with other households, the agency said, make the occasion “a small outdoor meal with family and friends who live in your community.”

Besides keeping the guest list as short as possible, the CDC said, hosts should talk in advance with guests “to set expectations for celebrating together.”

In addition: clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and items between uses. If you insist on celebrating indoors, “bring in fresh air by opening windows and doors, if possible. You can use a window fan in one of the open windows to blow air out of the window. This will pull fresh air in through the other open windows.”

Other tactics: Have guests bring their own food, drink and utensils or use single-use options, like plastic utensils.

As you face these questions, don’t forget a simpler underlying concern: Is everyone healthy enough for this?

The CDC says the following people shouldn’t join any in-person holiday celebrations: those suffering symptoms of COVID-19; those who have been diagnosed with the virus and have not met criteria for when it is safe to gather with others; people awaiting COVID-19 viral test results; people who may have been exposed to someone with the virus in the last 14 days; and people at increased risk of severe illness from the disease.