When it comes to traveling amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there are plenty of free resources available from the CDC that companies can use now to help regain traveler confidence.
During a recent session at Concur Fusion, Back to Work, Back to Travel: A Q&A with the CDC, a medical epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shared insights into vaccinated vs. unvaccinated travel, testing, digital passports, and other topics. There was plenty of information to take in, but a common theme emerged: You should do your homework before you travel, especially overseas, to stay safe and avoid surprises.
“Education is the key here,” said Dr. Kristina Angelo, an infectious diseases physician with expertise in travelers’ health. She was joined on the Q&A session by Ralph Colunga, a senior member of the SAP Concur team serving as Thought Leader - Travel and Expense Technology Solutions.
Moderated by Erin Giordano, SAP Concur Senior Marketing Manager, Team Lead, Enterprise, the session and many others from the event can be watched on demand.
Where to find information
The CDC’s Traveler’s Health site is the agency’s central collection point for helpful information for those going overseas or just traveling domestically. It includes the latest testing requirements for those visiting or returning to the US and provides COVID-19 risk levels and recommendations for international and domestic destinations. There’s also a disease directory and a copy of the CDC Yellowbook, “the bible of travel medicine,” among other resources.
“Our Travel Health Notices are our main way to communicate disease risks at a given destination,” Angelo said, for COVID-19 as well as for polio, dengue fever and many other illnesses travelers could pick up. “This allows us to make sure that before any traveler goes anywhere, they know what the risks are at that destination, and they know what to do to protect themselves.”
Other government agencies are excellent resources as well, she said.
“The most important thing people should do before traveling to a given destination is to check the US Department of State website or the US Embassy Department of Consular Affairs website,” Angelo advised, “because the destination entry requirements for a specific country change all the time. … So, before you embark on any trip, anywhere, check with those resources to see what those testing requirements are.”
The pandemic has, of course, honed employers’ focus on duty of care for travelers and other employees. SAP Concur solutions and extended options have evolved in response to those needs, supplying information and guidance on testing and vaccine requirements at destinations, along with resources such as helping locate health care and pharmacies if needed.
In addition to allowing travelers to gather itineraries and documents in one location, “SAP Concur via our TripItâ application provides a Traveler Resource Center (insert link), which links to the most current information at sites like the CDC and World Health Organization,” Colunga said. “But what’s even more extraordinary is that travelers get this advice in their hands at the right time, pre and upon arrival to their destination. Many travel tracking solutions that offer pre-travel alerts send this information upon booking the trip which may be weeks before the actual trip.”
Vaccines and testing
Becoming knowledgeable about what to expect is valuable, but Angelo said there is no better safety shield than getting vaccinated.
“The most important thing that an employer can do at this juncture with COVID-19 is to encourage vaccination among their employees,” she said. “This is important for all vaccines.”
Knowing that not everyone will get the shot, the CDC breaks some of its guidance into vaccinated vs. unvaccinated categories. For example, the CDC recommends travelers who have been vaccinated get tested three to five days after returning to the US because of the possibility of a breakthrough infection. For the unvaccinated, the CDC recommends that they be tested one to three days before going anywhere and that they also get tested after coming home because, Angelo said, “You have a higher likelihood of possibly carrying the virus and transmitting it to others during travel.”
For both groups, one testing requirement is universal for those returning to the US: “If you are in an international destination and want to come back to the United States, it is an absolute requirement, whether you are vaccinated or not, to have a (negative) test three days before, or 72 hours, before getting on the airplane.”
Digital Passports and the New Approach to Travel
The CDC currently is not involved in choosing or creating digital passports for vaccines and other health information. Instead, it is looking to business, nonprofits, and other government entities to take the lead and develop the electronic documentation.
The European Union and New York State – in tandem with IBM – were mentioned as examples by Giordano. The issue employers are watching closely.
“We believe this is going to be a fluid topic for some time, but we need to land on a viable solution as soon as possible, really just to help with responsible return to travel,” Colunga said.
Overall, as business organizations work to adapt to a changing travel environment, they should look to employees for guidance on needs and comfort levels.
“Travel managers will need to embrace traveler empowerment and focus on education of that community. Arising from the pandemic is a new set of behaviors for respecting others’ space and safety in social situations,” Colunga said. “New rules of travel etiquette are no doubt going to be emerging.”
The CDC’s Traveler’s Health site collects Travel Health Notices and country-specific information on risk level and requirements, along with a host of other details and recommendations.
The TripIt Traveler Resource Center provides links to the CDC, US State Department, and other helpful sites. It also provides destination-specific safety guidance and health information.
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