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Border remains closed, but new CDC guidelines a sign of hope for domestic travel

CDC updated guidelines for domestic travel during the COVID-19 pandemic on April 2. Fully vaccinated people can travel, Bellingham international airport still at 30% pre-pandemic levels

A sign at Bellingham International Airport points travelers toward gates for departing flights.
A sign at Bellingham International Airport points travelers toward gates for departing flights. With the Canadian border closed, air travel at Bellingham International Airport has decreased to about 30% of pre-pandemic levels. // Photo by Hannah Cross

By Joslin Keim

The Centers for Disease Control updated guidelines for domestic travel during the COVID-19 pandemic on April 2 with a focus on those who are fully vaccinated.

Those who are fully vaccinated with an FDA-approved vaccine such as Moderna, Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson are safe to travel domestically, according to an update in the CDC’s travel guidelines and recommendations. As of April 10, more than one in three Whatcom County residents have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

According to the guidelines, those who are fully vaccinated with an FDA-approved vaccine are less likely to get and spread COVID-19 while traveling.

Recommendations of wearing a mask, social distancing six feet away from others, frequently washing hands and using hand sanitizer remain in place, according to the CDC website. Fully-vaccinated individuals are still at risk of contracting or transmitting COVID-19 even after their vaccination, which is important as air travel becomes a safe option again. 

“Understanding that is key to airports and airlines,” said Sunil Harman, the director of aviation at the Port of Bellingham. “Ensuring that we still have to issue guidelines with respect to those previous requirements.”

Harman said Bellingham International Airport continues to follow guidelines set by the CDC, as well as state and local jurisdictions.

Though COVID-19 is not the first unprecedented event to impact the aviation industry, Harman said those at the airport worked to “prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”

Gillian Smith, a third-year at Western, went through the airport in Dec. 2020 while on the way to her hometown of Juneau, Alaska for winter break. Juneau can only be reached by boat or plane, meaning that those going to and from the city don’t have the option of travelling by car like those in many other states do.

Smith said she worried about picking up “something” in a high-traffic environment, but it seemed like the airport was upholding different protocols to keep things clean.

“Everyone in Alaska has to do air travel if they want to go home,” Smith said. “So yeah, I’m going to feel a lot more confident traveling once I have the vaccine and other people are vaccinated.”

Starting April 15, those 16 and up become eligible for vaccination in Washington state. It should be noted that as of April 13, the CDC and Food and Drug Administration released a joint statement recommending a pause in administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to 6 cases of rare blood clots in individuals who got that specific vaccine.

Jennifer Moon, the public information officer for the Whatcom County Health Department said travel guidelines may give people another reason to seek vaccination. Moon also said, the Whatcom County Health Department still advises against unnecessary travel, in line with the CDC.

“It’s important to remain watchful and err on the side of caution when deciding whether or not to travel,” Moon said in an email.

Harman said the airport, which is a part of the Port of Bellingham, is currently operating at about 30% of its pre-COVID levels.

“Since the [Canadian] border remains closed for non-essential travel, that has been a factor in our lower activity numbers,” said Harman. 

Harman also said increasing the amount of flights out of the airport will depend on the speed of vaccination in both Washington state and Canada, as well as the confidence levels of those living in both areas.

“Vaccination makes everything you do safer while COVID-19 is still active in our community and across the country,” Moon said.

Joslin Keim is a third-year PR journalism major and a city life writer for The Front. Joslin’s writing focuses on the arts in and around Bellingham. Contact Joslin at joslinkeim.thefront@gmail.com or @joslinkeim on Twitter.


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