By Forrest Brown and Marnie Hunter, CNN
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has added one destination — a relaxed Caribbean playground — to its “high” category for Covid-19 risk.
The British Virgin Islands moved up to Level 3 on Monday; it previously had been at Level 2.
The islands are known for the famous Virgin Gorda Baths (a bay dotted with giant granite boulders); water sports such as diving and sailing; and a pace that is more casual than some of the Caribbean’s hot spots.
Overall, this week’s CDC travel risk update saw little in the way of the dramatic shifts in status that characterized this past winter and early spring during the original Omicron variant surge.
The CDC recently overhauled its ratings system for assessing Covid-19 risk for travelers.
The Level 3 “high” risk category is now the top rung in terms of risk level. Level 2 is considered “moderate” risk, and Level 1 is “low” risk.
Level 4, previously the highest risk category, is now reserved only for special circumstances, such as extremely high case counts, emergence of a new variant of concern or health care infrastructure collapse. Under the new system, no destinations have been placed at Level 4 so far.
In the CDC’s new system, the “Level 3: Covid-19 High” category applies to countries that have had more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days.
Much of Europe is still lodged there with the summer travel season getting ever closer. As of May 9, some popular European destinations remained at Level 3:
• The Netherlands
• United Kingdom
It’s not just European favorites that find themselves at Level 3. Other popular travel spots around the world still ranked at the high risk level:
• Costa Rica
• South Korea
There are almost 110 destinations at Level 3 this week. Level 3 locations now account for nearly half of the roughly 235 places monitored by the CDC.
The CDC advises that you get up-to-date with your Covid-19 vaccines before traveling to a Level 3 destination. “Up-to-date” includes not only the full initial vaccinations but any boosters for which you’re eligible.
The CDC does not include the United States in its list of advisories, but on its color-coded map of the world, the CDC had it at Level 3 on Monday.
Destinations carrying the “Level 2: Covid-19 Moderate” designation reported 50 to 100 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days. Seven destinations — spread all around the planet — were moved to this level on Monday:
• The Bahamas
• St. Vincent and the Grenadines
The move to Level 2 was a step back for the Bahamas, Namibia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which had been at Level 1.
But the move was good news for tourism-dependent Fiji, along with Jordan and Mongolia, which had been at Level 3. Paraguay was previously “unknown.” Almost 25 places are now at Level 2.
You can view the CDC’s risk levels for any global destination on the agency’s travel recommendations page.
In its broader travel guidance, the CDC has recommended avoiding all international travel until you are fully vaccinated.
If you’re concerned about a health situation not related to Covid-19, check here.
To be in “Level 1: Covid-19 Low,” a destination must have had 49 or fewer new cases per 100,000 residents over the past 28 days. Two landlocked destinations were added to the category on May 9:
South America’s Bolivia had been at Level 2, while Kosovo, part of Europe’s Balkans, dropped all the way from Level 3, making it the biggest mover of the week.
This level is dominated by destinations in Africa, including Ghana, Kenya and Rwanda. Level 1 had more than 50 entries total this week.
Finally, there are destinations for which the CDC has an “unknown” risk because of a lack of information. Usually, but not always, these are small, remote places or places with ongoing warfare or unrest. Only one addition was made on Monday to this category: Angola.
The CDC advises against travel to these places precisely because the risks are unknown. Also attracting their fair share of visitors in this category are the Azores, Cambodia and Tanzania.
A medical expert weighs in on risk levels
Transmission rates are just “one guidepost” for travelers’ personal risk calculations, according to CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen.
We’ve 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,” said Wen, who is an emergency physician and professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.
There are other factors to weigh in addition to transmission rates, according to Wen.
“Another is 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.
“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.”
Vaccination is the most significant safety factor for travel, since unvaccinated travelers are more likely to become ill and transmit Covid-19 to others, Wen said.
And it’s also important to consider what you would do if you end up testing positive away from home. Where will you stay and how easy will it be to get a test to return home?
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Top image: BVI, now at Level 3, has plenty of beach escapes. (Matt/Adobe Stock).