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Can I travel right now? Here’s what Los Angeles County says.

Here are some recommendations and quarantine requirements if you decide to get away for a little.

Michael Juliano

For months now, answering “can I travel outside of L.A.?” has meant a series of “yes, but…” sort of responses. That’s sort of still the case as we move through 2021, but the vaccine rollout is really starting to change things.

During the stay-at-home orders over the holidays, Californians were being asked to not to travel, and even once it was lifted the state advised not to go more than 120 miles from home. But those sorts of restrictions have been scrapped now, and things are starting to look a little closer to normal as L.A. (and some surrounding counties) now sits in the yellow tier. Yet for unvaccinated Angelenos, non-essential travel is still being discouraged and considered risky.

So what does that all actually mean right now?

What’s this about a mandatory travel quarantine when traveling to L.A.?

For months now, you’ve been asked to quarantine when returning to L.A., but the county has now issued protocols that hinge on whether of not you’ve been vaccinated.

If you’ve been fully vaccinated (that means it’s been more than two weeks since your second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines or your first and only shot of the Johnson & Johnson one), you don’t need to quarantine as long as you’re not experiencing any symptoms.

But if you haven’t been fully vaccinated, non-essential travelers who arrive in L.A. County from another state or country are required to quarantine for at least 10 days. This applies to all modes of transportation, whether by plane, car or train, as well as to locals returning home. If you get tested within three to five days of your arrival and receive a negative result, you can cut your quarantine down to only seven days.

What exactly does it mean to quarantine? That means remaining at home or wherever you’re temporarily staying and avoiding all contact with other people, including others in your household unless they too are under quarantine (so you’ll have to get your groceries and food delivered, but going for a distanced and masked walk around your neighborhood should still be permissible). On the flip side, it’s worth noting that the quarantine doesn’t apply to essential healthcare workers, caregivers, essential travelers who routinely cross the state border or people just passing through L.A. but not staying the night.

If you’re symptom-free after 10 days (or seven if you get tested), you’re free to leave your home, though you’re still asked to monitor yourself for symptoms for 14 days after your arrival (and this self-monitoring suggestion applies to all travelers). If you do start experiencing symptoms or test positive, you’ll need to isolate for 10 days and until you are fever-free for 24 hours.

So does that mean I can I travel outside of L.A.?

The county can’t stop you from leaving L.A. but it does still discourage you from leaving the state non-essential purposes (which includes leisure, tourism and non-essential business). Though things have gotten remarkably better in L.A., that’s not the case in areas of some other states, and certainly abroad. L.A. County public health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer notes that the region has so far managed to evade the widespread circulation of variants of concern that have dominated other areas, and says that “we’d like to keep it that way.”

For vaccinated travelers, though, the CDC has said that such people can travel at a much lower risk—and that county agrees, as long as they take the precautions detailed above.

Can I spend time with family?

Yes, but like travel this also depends on whether or not you’ve been vaccinated.

For unvaccinated people, the county prefers that you keep things outside—with masks on and six feet of distancing between household units required—for informal social gatherings. You can move things indoors under those same guidelines, but the county strongly discourages it, specifically if you’ll be eating or drinking (since you’d have to remove your mask to do so). There’s also technically a cap on the number of people you can meet with: 100 outdoors, and 50% capacity or 50 people—whichever is fewer—indoors.

If you’re fully vaccinated, though, you’re free to gather indoors with no masks or distancing required. That also applies to fully vaccinated people who visit a single household of unvaccinated people (only as long as that unvaccinated household isn’t at a severe risk of illness).

It’s an understandably jumbled set of rules, but it’s important to note that for people who will inevitably ignore these rules, just getting tested instead doesn’t give you some sort of free pass to ignore these guidelines. In the past, Ferrer has specifically noted that it just doesn’t work that way. “Don’t rely on testing to protect you or those you love from getting infected,” Ferrer said. “We’ve seen example after example where testing… doesn’t prevent people from transmitting and acquiring the virus.”

Can family come and visit me?

As far as what you decide to do in your own home, nobody will stop you. But it’s important to keep in mind both the above and below info about non-essential travel—and to know that private gatherings were largely responsible for the mess we ended up in over the holidays.

If you have family visiting and don’t want them staying in your home, they can stay at hotels or short-term rentals. They’ll still be subject to any out-of-region quarantine rules, though.

So what exactly makes travel essential or non-essential?

California’s travel advisory lays out the difference between the two. In terms of visiting family, traveling to provide medical care would be considered essential. But simply swinging by to share a meal? Non-essential. 

Is there any other advice I should keep in mind?

You probably know the drill by this point, but in general: wear a mask, keep six feet from others, avoid crowds and large gatherings, stay home if you’re feeling sick, get tested if you have symptoms, isolate if you test positive for 10 days and 24 hours after fever and symptoms subside, and quarantine if you’ve traveled, been in close contact with someone who tested positive or in a crowd or gathering.

We originally published this story on November 12, 2020 about Thanksgiving travel, but we’ve since updated it with evolving travel guidelines.

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