Mauritius added to CDC’s highest risk category for travel

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(CNN) — The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday added just one new destination, the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius, to its highest risk category for travel.

The weekly travel risk level update brought good news for islands clustered in and around the Caribbean Sea with nine destinations – including the Bahamas, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic – dropping one rung from of level 4.

The CDC places a destination at the risk level “Level 4: Covid-19 very high” when more than 500 cases per 100,000 inhabitants are recorded in the last 28 days.

Mauritius, located off the eastern coast of Africa, recently recorded a 180% increase in weekly cases, according to figures from the World Health Organization. Located approximately 700 miles (1,100 km) east of Madagascar, Maurice had already been at level 3.

To recap, only one destination was added to Tier 4 on March 14:

• Mauritius

After a drop in global cases since the end of January, the WHO recorded a slight increase in cases worldwide for the week of March 7.

CDC: avoid Tier 4 destinations

There are around 125 destinations currently in Tier 4. While the number of places in the “very high” risk category has fallen since surpassing around 140 in February, there are still more places in the category of level 4 than in all the other categories combined.

The CDC advises avoiding travel to Tier 4 countries. The CDC’s thresholds for travel health notices are based primarily on the number of Covid-19 cases in a destination.

The CDC does not include the United States in its advisory list, but it was color-coded to Level 4 on March 14 on the agency’s travel risk levels map.

A view of the Bonis windmill and the old port of Mykonos, one of Greece’s most popular islands.

Byron Smith/Getty Images

Favorites for tourists stuck in Tier 4 include Aruba, Brazil, Canada, Egypt, France, Greece, Peru and Spain. The UK has been there since July 2021.

In its broader travel guidelines, the CDC recommended avoiding all international travel until you are fully immunized.

Changes at Level 3

Turks and Caicos is famous for its beaches, including the port of Mudjin.  The island chain in the Atlantic Ocean is now at CDC Level 3.

Turks and Caicos is famous for its beaches, including the port of Mudjin. The island chain in the Atlantic Ocean is now at CDC Level 3.

Marnie Hunter/CNN

The Level 3 “high” risk category – which applies to destinations that have had between 100 and 500 cases per 100,000 people in the past 28 days – saw nine additions on Monday – all islands grouped together in the Caribbean and Atlantic. They were:

• Cuba
• Bahamian
• British Virgin Islands
• Dominican Republic
• Jamaica
• Saint Kitts and Nevis
• Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
• Saint-Martin
• Turks and Caicos Islands

They were all previously listed at level 4.

Levels 2, 1 and unknown

Destinations with the designation “Level 2: Moderate Covid-19” have recorded 50 to 99 cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 inhabitants in the last 28 days. The four new Tier 2 entries on March 14 are:

• Travel by cruise ship
• Gabon
• Kyrgyzstan
• Zambia

They were all previously listed at Level 3. Cruise travel had previously been upgraded from Level 4 to Level 3 in mid-February and is now considered a “moderate” risk at Level 2.

To be at “Level 1: Covid-19 Low”, a destination must have registered fewer than 50 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the last 28 days. Eleven places moved to level 1 on Monday:

• Angola
•Burkina Faso
• Comoros
• Djibouti
• Equatorial Guinea
• Liberia
• Mali
• Mauritania
• Saba
• Sao Tome and Principe
• Senegal

The only destinations now listed at Tier 1 outside of Africa are China, Taiwan and the tiny Caribbean island of Saba.

Finally, there are destinations for which the CDC has an “unknown” risk due to a lack of information. Usually, but not always, these are small, remote places or places where war or unrest is going on. The CDC has no news additions to the category on Monday.

Tanzania, Cambodia and Macau are among the most visited places currently listed in the unknown category. The CDC advises against travel to these places precisely because the risks are unknown.

Medical expert weighs in on risk levels

Transmission rates are “a benchmark” for travelers’ personal risk calculations, according to CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen.

“We are entering a phase of the pandemic where people have to make their own decisions based on their medical situation as well as their risk tolerance when it comes to contracting Covid-19,” Wen said in mid -February.

“You have to interpret level 4 to mean that it is a place with a lot of community transmission of Covid-19. So if you go there, you are more likely to contract the coronavirus,” said said Wen, who is an emergency physician and professor of health policy and management at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health.

Some people will decide the risk is too high for them, Wen said. “Other people will say, ‘Because I’m vaccinated and boosted, I’m willing to take that risk.’

“So it really has to be a personal decision that people weigh knowing that right now the CDC is categorizing the different tiers based on community transmission rates, and basically just that,” Wen said. “They don’t take into account individual circumstances.”

More Travel Considerations

There are other factors to weigh in addition to transmission rates, according to Wen.

“Transmission rates are a benchmark,” Wen said. “Another is what precautions are needed and followed where you are going, and then the third is what you plan to do once you get there.

“Do you plan to visit a lot of attractions and go to the bars inside? It’s very different from going somewhere where you plan to lay on the beach all day and not interact with anyone else. It’s very different. These are very different levels of risk.”

Vaccination is the most important safety factor for travel, as unvaccinated travelers are more likely to get sick and transmit Covid-19 to others, Wen said.

“Unvaccinated people remain at high risk and really shouldn’t travel at this point,” she said.

People should wear a high-quality mask — N95, KN95 or KF94 — whenever they’re in crowded indoor settings with people whose vaccination status is unknown, she said.

And it’s also important to think about what you would do if you became positive outside of your home. Where will you be staying and how easy will it be to take a test to return home?

Top image: Flic en Flac beach on the west coast of Mauritius on November 3, 2021. (Photo: Laura Morosoli/AFP via Getty Images)

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