The CDC’s Latest Pandemic Guidelines for Travel and Events

The Justice Department has asked an appeals court to reverse the April 2022 ruling that overturned the CDC's mask mandate on public transportation.


Planning Safe Events
Northstar's downloadable research, Safety First; Planner Musts for In-Person Meetings, considers the complete range of health and safety services relevant to meetings of all sizes and types, and provides comprehensive insights as to the safety measures planners intend to implement. 

Updated Jan. 18, 2023

On Jan. 17, the Department of Justice asked an appeals court to reverse the April 2022 ruling that declared the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's face-mask requirement for public transportation to be unlawful. Brian Springer, a Justice Department attorney, argued that the CDC should have the authority to establish universal mask mandates during a public-health crisis such as Covid.

The development comes shortly after the European Union issued new guidance advising visitors traveling between China and the E.U. member states to wear a medical-grade mask during their flight. E.U. countries are also "strongly encouraged" to require negative Covid-19 tests for passengers traveling from China. In addition, the World Health Organization has advised passengers to wear face coverings during long-haul flights.

As of Jan. 5, the CDC now requires all air passengers traveling from China to the United States to present proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken no more than two days prior to departure, or show documentation of recovery from the virus within the past 90 days. The requirements apply to all travelers ages 2 and older, regardless of nationality and vaccination status. Hong Kong and Macau are included under the new rules.

In early October 2022, the CDC stopped providing international travel advisories related to Covid-19. According to the agency, "fewer countries are testing or reporting Covid-19 cases," which limits its ability to assess risk levels accurately for travelers. The CDC previously maintained an extensive risk-level list, which was updated weekly. Countries were classified as as low, moderate, high risk or very-high risk depending on the number of Covid-19 cases over the past 28 days. Moving forward, the CDC is only issuing travel advisories if there is a "concerning Covid-19 variant" or other situation that would change the agency's travel recommendations for a particular country.

In June 2022, the CDC rescinded its requirement that international travelers entering the U.S. by air must present proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken within one day of departure. All non-U.S. citizens must show proof of full vaccination in order to enter the country.

The agency still recommends that international travelers stay up to date with their Covid-19 vaccines and follow the latest face mask recommendations. CDC guidelines also advise getting tested before traveling, as well as after arrival.

The CDC no longer recommends that unvaccinated people quarantine after being exposed to the virus, but instead advises that they wear a mask around others for 10 days and get tested on day five. Those who test positive should still self-isolate for five days.

Face-Mask Recommendations

The federal mask mandate, which required face coverings to be worn at all times on public transportation and in transport hub, was struck down in April 2022 by a federal judge. The agency issued updated guidelines for when people should wear face masks indoors. Face masks are not required in low-risk counties, and are only recommended in areas with medium transmission if the person is immunocompromised or at high risk for severe illness. People in counties with high transmission of Covid-19 should wear face coverings indoors regardless of their vaccination status, according to the CDC. 

Based on the latest guidance, meeting organizers and venue managers who are assessing safety measures will likely need to consider transmission levels not only in their host destination, but also in the areas from which their attendees are traveling. 

CDC Guidelines for Events

Meeting organizers preparing for shows scheduled in 2023 and beyond must consider the health and safety of attendees and staff at every step of the planning process. Guidance from the CDC provides a critical roadmap for planning Covid-safe events.

The CDC guidelines encourage event organizers to follow state and local regulations on gatherings. Meeting planners should continually monitor the outbreak and make adjustments to the event plan as needed.

The following is pulled from earlier CDC recommendations on how to assess and reduce the risk of transmission at meetings. 

Risk Factors to Consider

  • The number of Covid-19 cases within the community: High or increasing levels of local infection could increase the risk of spread among attendees.
  • Potential for exposure during travel: Airports, airplanes, bus stations, buses, train stations, trains and public transport are all places where physical distancing might be challenging and ventilation could be poor.
  • Length of the event: Longer meetings pose greater risk. Being within 6 feet of someone who has Covid-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more (over a 24-hour period) greatly increases the risk of becoming infected.
  • The setting: Indoor events, especially in places with poor ventilation, pose more risk than outdoor events.
  • Number of people attending: The more people there are at an event, the greater the likelihood for exposure. Planners must also consider crowding, and should implement modified room layouts or block off seats to ensure social distancing.
  • Behavior or attendees: Events where unvaccinated people do not maintain physical distancing and/or do not wear a mask correctly can increase the risk of contagion.

For planners who decide to proceed with their events, the CDC has offered the following recommendations:

Before the Event

  • Educate staff members and attendees as to when they should stay home.
  • Establish flexible refund policies for anyone who falls ill, must care for a sick household member, or is at high risk of contracting Covid-19 and can no longer attend the event.
  • Gather supplies such as soap, hand sanitizers that contain at least 60 percent alcohol, tissues, disinfectant wipes, no-touch trash cans and face masks that will be distributed on-site. Make sure both attendees and staff members will have access to the supplies. Staff members should be required to wear face masks and attendees should be encouraged to wear them as well, especially those participants who are not vaccinated.
  • Meet with the venue's emergency operations coordinator or planning team. Discuss their emergency protocol and develop a contingency plan that addresses various coronavirus-related scenarios that could affect the meeting.
  • Designate a person or office to be responsible for Covid-19 concerns. Ensure all employees and guests know who this person is and how to contact them.
  • Encourage the event staff and all attendees to practice good personal health habits each day. Be sure to share resource materials from reputable sources on symptoms, prevention and more.
  • Consider modifying the event layout for social distancing. This includes limiting attendance or reducing seating capacities. Multiple entrances and exits also should be offered, and event organizers should consider staggering the use of shared indoor spaces, such as dining halls and lounges.
  • Prioritize outdoor activities where social distancing can be maintained.
  • Offer online options in addition to in-person attendance to help reduce the number of guests on-site.
  • Discourage anyone who is sick from attending the meeting and request that people who begin displaying any Covid-19 symptoms leave immediately. 
  • Create a quarantine zone for anyone who falls ill. Work with the local health department and hospital to create a plan for treating staff members and participants who develop symptoms and do not live nearby.
  • Work with local health officials and develop a plan in case the situation changes and the meeting must be canceled or postponed. Develop specific criteria for postponing or canceling and outline what the refund or reticket policy will be. Assess whether the event could be held virtually if necessary.
  • Consider limiting event attendance to guests and staff who live in the local area to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus from areas that have high levels of transmission. 
  • Identify automated platforms that can be used to disseminate updates quickly to staff members and attendees via text message, email and more. Take care to consider any potential language, cultural or disability barriers that may affect communication. 

During the Event

  • Stay informed and closely follow all coronavirus-related news and updates. Pay particular attention to developments in the local area.
  • Share frequent updates with employees, participants, partners and more. Promote preventive resources and address any concerns. 
  • Stagger and limit attendance times to reduce the number of guests in the venue at one time.
  • Conduct daily temperature screenings and/or health checks of employees and guests.
  • Maintain a healthy stockpile of prevention supplies such as hand sanitizer, soap and face masks. Frequently touched surfaces and objects should be cleaned on a regular basis with detergent and water prior to disinfection. Develop a schedule for increased routine cleaning and disinfection.
  • Post signs in highly visible locations such as the entrances and restrooms that encourage protective measures. You can also broadcast announcements on public address systems, and share messages on social media.
  • Develop signs and messaging in alternative formats for those who are blind/have limited vision, or are deaf/hard of hearing. This includes messages in large print, braille and American Sign Language.
  • Limit the number of people who can use a restroom at one time and post signs or markers outside the restroom to prevent crowds from forming.
  • Avoid offering any self-serve food or drink options such as buffets and salad bars. Add floor markers to ensure attendees stay 6 feet apart while waiting in line to order or pick up food.
  • Ensure ventilation systems operate properly and increase circulation of outdoor air as much as possible by opening windows and doors when feasible.
  • Separate anyone who is sick from the rest of the group. Place them in a quarantine zone and give them clean, disposable face masks. Work with the local hospital and health department to provide appropriate care. 

After the Event

  • Hold a post-event meeting with the venue’s emergency operations coordinator or planning team to discuss lessons learned. Ask participants, partners and staff to share additional feedback.
  • Look for new agencies and partners who can help improve future plans.
  • Continue to monitor emergency preparedness resources and training.