In normal times, the holidays are some of the busiest travel days of the year — especially in Alaska, where many escape to warmer places, or go see family in the lower 48.
But as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to rise in Alaska and nationwide, state health officials continue to urge Alaskans to stay home whenever possible. They encourage finding ways to celebrate the holidays safely that don’t involve travel.
These recommendations are echoed nationally. On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control issued new guidance urging Americans to celebrate the holidays only with people in their immediate households, giving the virus less opportunity to spread.
More than 1 million COVID-19 cases were reported in the United States over the last week, and the nation passed 250,000 virus deaths.
“As cases continue to increase rapidly across the United States, the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to celebrate at home with the people you live with,” the agency said.
For those who are still considering travel in and out of Alaska the next few weeks, there are some additional precautions that can be taken, and state and local travel mandates to keep in mind.
Here’s what to know before you go.
What are the current restrictions on travelers visiting Alaska from out of the state?
If you’re planning a trip to Alaska, there are a couple of preparations you’ll need to take.
A state mandate that was revised in October loosened some of the earlier rules set in place over the summer, but still requires non-residents and residents traveling into Alaska from out of state to present a negative result from a COVID-19 test taken within three days of departure, or have proof that they’ve taken the test and self-quarantine until they get their results.
Even with a negative result, all travelers are required to adhere to strict social distancing for five days after they arrive.
Alaska residents have an option to quarantine for two weeks in lieu of testing, but non-residents do not.
The state also recommends — but does not require — travelers to get a second test between five and 14 days after arriving in Alaska.
If arriving travelers have trouble getting tested beforehand, Alaska residents can take a free test at the airport. Non-residents can also test at the airport, but they must pay $250 for the test, and again, they’ll have to self-quarantine until the results come back.
Kids ages 10 and under are exempt from the testing requirement, as are travelers who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 90 days, as long as they can show proof of their prior positive test result, are no longer experiencing symptoms, and provide a note from a doctor or public health official stating that they are no longer in isolation.
What are the rules for travel within Alaska?
A recent set of health orders signed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy has also modified the state’s travel recommendations for travel within Alaska.
The state’s recommendations for travel to communities on the road system or the Alaska Marine Highway system depend on how long your trip is.
If it’s less than 72 hours, testing is recommended five days after arriving at your final destination. If it’s more than that, travelers should get a test 72 hours before they leave and shouldn’t begin traveling until they get their negative result back, the mandate states.
Travelers from communities on the road or ferry systems should get tested 72 hours before they travel to a community off the road system.
The new mandate went into effect on Saturday, Nov. 21.
“We are recommending that intrastate travelers...also get a second test 5 days after arrival in their off-road system destination community,” said Bryan Fisher, who works in emergency management for the state.
Local communities can still enact their own travel restrictions, and travelers should visit the state’s website — covid19.alaska.gov/local-borough-resources — for more specific restrictions in different parts of the state.
What should you do when planning a trip outside Alaska?
Alaskans planning a trip in the lower 48 can check state and local public health websites for location-specific mandates and restrictions, which vary widely and can change frequently. Many require tests taken before you go, or mandatory quarantines.
Travelers to New York, for example, must show proof of a negative test result obtained three days before departure, and then they have to quarantine for three days and get another test on day four. Only after both tests come back negative can they end their quarantine, with some exceptions.
Visitors to New Mexico from any state except Hawaii are subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine (the state evaluates which states are on this list weekly, based on case rates.) All non-essential travel to Vermont requires a quarantine. In Maine, a recent negative test result allows visitors to bypass a quarantine.
Washington, Oregon and California are all asking visitors to self-quarantine for 14 days after arriving from another state or country on non-essential travel.
Going to Hawaii
Visitors to Hawaii hoping to avoid a two-week quarantine must get a negative test taken within 72 hours of flight departure, and only from one of the state’s “trusted partner” testing sites; no rapid tests allowed. In Alaska, four Walgreens locations as well as Capstone Clinic locations qualify. Travelers may not get tested at any Hawaii airports.
Anyone age five and older traveling to Hawaii has to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of departure. Adults must also register with the state and fill in their trip details on the state’s Safe Travels website. Test results have to get uploaded onto Hawaii’s travel website, but travelers need a hard copy of results when they arrive as well.
Within 24 hours of the departing flight, travelers receive a QR code that they’ll present upon arrival in order to validate their testing and travel information. After arriving, travelers will get screened for fevers.
If for some reason a traveler shows up to the state without proof of a negative test, they’ll be required to quarantine for 14 days, or until the end of their travel to the state. Travelers in self-quarantine cannot leave their rooms except for medical emergencies or to leave Hawaii. If they violate the quarantine terms travelers risk a fines of up $5,000 or a year in prison.
What else should you keep in mind?
In a recent case summary, health officials noted that the proportion of travelers testing positive at airport testing nearly doubled over the last two weeks, which they say reflects substantially increased risk of travel over the last two weeks, and correlates with increased case rates across most of the United States.
“I think travel is not a good idea,” said Janet Johnston, an epidemiologist with the Anchorage Health Department, during a recent call with reporters.
But if you do travel, following basic safety precautions can help reduce risk. Wear a mask while traveling, and minimize eating and drinking while you’re on a plane to avoid having to take it off, said Johnston.
“And think about all the different places you go while traveling,” she said. “While you’re going through the airport, try to avoid crowded locations. Bring your own food so you don’t have to stand in a line. Just think through every step."
Dr. Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer, agreed that if you must travel, having a carefully thought-out plan could help avoid unnecessary risk.
“The more you can pre-plan your exposure, and make sure you have a plan for safety, you’re going to be more likely to execute that safely than get caught off guard by something that changes in your plan,” she said.
Travel is considered particularly risky for older people and those with certain medical conditions are at a higher risk for severe illness from the virus; it is risky to travel to see people in this category too.
The CDC recommends canceling your trip if you are feeling sick, if you’ve been around someone with suspected or diagnosed COVID-19 in the past 14 days, if you’ve tested positive, or if you are waiting on the results of a test.
ADN reporter Morgan Krakow contributed.