ATLANTA - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated and added 16 more countries to their "Level 4: COVID-19 Very High" travel risk list, including Greece and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as the delta variant continues to fuel cases around the world.
"Level 4" means the CDC is advising people to avoid travel. If travel is necessary, health officials urge people to be vaccinated. As of August 3, 70 countries are on the list including Spain, Portugal and the United Kingdom.
The latest recommendation from the CDC still asks Americans to be fully vaccinated before any international travel. In addition, vaccinated Americans should still get a viral test 3 to 5 days after returning to the U.S. and self-monitor themselves for any COVID-19 symptoms.
Countries across Europe are scrambling to accelerate coronavirus vaccinations and outpace the spread of the more infectious delta variant, in a high-stakes race to prevent hospital wards from filling up again with patients fighting for their lives.
The urgency coincides with Europe’s summer holidays, with fair weather bringing more social gatherings and governments reluctant to clamp down on them. Social distancing is being neglected, especially among the young, and some countries are scrapping the requirement to wear masks outdoors.
Incentives for people to get shots include free groceries, travel and entertainment vouchers, and prize drawings. The president of Cyprus even appealed to a sense of patriotism.
Spain’s public health care system, which has suffered budget cuts in the past decade, buckled last year under the first wave of the virus, which has claimed at least 81,000 lives in the country. Unlike Germany or France, Spain doesn’t have a big anti-vaccine movement. More than 90% of Spain’s public health workers have been vaccinated, compared with 42% of public health workers in France.
With virus infections spiking and hospitalizations rising, French lawmakers have passed a bill requiring a special pass in most places as of Aug. 9. The pass requires a vaccination or a quick negative test or proof of a recent recovery from COVID-19 and mandates vaccine shots for all health care workers by mid-September. Polls show a majority of the French support the pass, but some are adamantly opposed.
It’s not yet clear if the delta variant makes people sicker. But experts say it spreads more easily because of mutations that make it better at latching onto cells in our bodies.
Nearly all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. now are among people who weren’t vaccinated, a staggering demonstration of how effective the shots have been and an indication that deaths per day — now down to under 300 — could be practically zero if everyone eligible got the vaccine, according to an Associated Press analysis.
Earlier this month, Andy Slavitt, a former adviser to the Biden administration on COVID-19, suggested that 98% to 99% of the Americans dying of the coronavirus are unvaccinated.
According to the CDC, more than 180 million Americans over the age of 18 have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, representing 70% of the demographic — a goal President Joe Biden wanted to reach on July 4.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.