The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) added two global destinations to its “Level 3: High” COVID-risk category this week, one of which is among the Caribbean’s most popular tropical island hotspots for American travelers—the Dominican Republic.
Also escalated to the “High” designation was the Middle Eastern nation of Kuwait, which is known mainly for its historical heritage and cultural attractions. The DR was bumped up one tier from its prior “Level 2: Moderate” status, while Kuwait made a larger leap, having previously been classed at “Level 1: Low”.
The Dominican Republic (DR) has been vastly popular this year among U.S. travelers seeking Caribbean beach vacations, with the clear waters and powdery sands of Punta Cana making it the country’s largest hub for tourist resorts. It also helped that the DR’s entry requirements were relatively lenient, even before most countries began relaxing their COVID-19 restrictions in recent months. Also, all of the DR’s hospitality sector workers are fully vaccinated, providing additional peace of mind for resort guests.
In mid-April, the CDC overhauled the format of its Travel Health Notice system for foreign destinations. Level 4, previously the highest COVID-risk designation, is now reserved for places with ‘Special Circumstances/Do Not Travel’ warnings, making Level 3 effectively the highest-risk classification.
Examples of circumstances that would warrant a Level 4 label might include extremely high case counts, the emergence of a new variant of concern or healthcare infrastructure collapse in a certain country. To date, no destination has received this particular designation.
“Level 1: Low” destinations are those that have seen 49 or fewer new cases per 100,000 residents over the prior 28 days; “Level 2: Moderate” ones are those that have reported between 50 and 100 new cases per 100,000; while countries categorized as “Level 3: High” are those that have had over 100 new cases per 100,000 people over the same period.
There were nearly 115 destinations at Level 3 when the CDC released its weekly update on June 27, representing close to half of the roughly 235 world destinations that the agency monitors.
So, does the CDC’s heightened ranking mean that everyone who had hoped to visit the Dominican Republic for their long-awaited summer vacations should rethink their plans? Commenting on this week’s developments, CNN’s Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen told the outlet that COVID-19 transmission rates are only “one guidepost” for travelers when making their personal risk assessments.
An emergency physician, and professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, Wen explained that we’ve now 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.”
Other considerations must also be weighed, Wen said, including, “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 posited, “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.”
Wen emphasized that getting fully vaccinated is the single most important factor for travelers in protecting their personal safety, as those who are unvaccinated are more likely to get sick and/or spread the virus to others.
While COVID-19 testing is no longer a requirement when re-entering the U.S., the CDC still recommends travelers get tested prior to boarding their flights and refrain from flying if they’re ill. Which means that it’s also still important to consider what you would do if you should contract COVID-19 while you’re abroad and make contingency plans.
For more information, visit cdc.gov/travel/noticescovid19.