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What happens if I test positive for covid in Europe?

by Staff

Traveling has always come with complications. Our By The Way Concierge column will take your travel dilemmas to the experts to help you navigate the unexpected. Want to see your question answered? Submit it here.

“What should you do if you test positive for covid while touring a European country?” — Margaret L., Allen Park, Mich.

Gone are the days of vaccine passports and time-sensitive PCR tests; what’s left now will depend on the country you’re visiting — and probably will look like suggestions rather than mandate.

For example: In France, you’re not required to do anything, although masking, avoiding vulnerable people, working from home and telling close contacts that you’re sick is recommended. In Germany, the national guidance is to stay home “if possible” and avoid contact with others, but there’s no official requirement to isolate. Italy lifted covid isolation requirements last summer.

Ideally, you should follow local rules and do your best to minimize the spread of disease, says Lin H. Chen, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and the director of the Travel Medicine Center at Mount Auburn Hospital.

But remember that what stands today may not hold true by the time you’re traveling. Check in with the destination’s health ministry website to stay up to date before your trip.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website still notes: “Don’t travel while sick.” But airlines are no longer collecting proof of negative covid tests to fly back to the United States, and there are no requirements to reenter the country.

Still, “we are in a transitional period,” Chen said, alluding to guidance stateside. The CDC plans to loosen covid isolation recommendations for the first time since 2021.

The current guidance says those who test positive should stay home from work and school for five days. The new recommendation, which has yet to be finalized but could come in April, will look more like dealing with the flu or RSV: If you test positive and have a fever or severe symptoms — or seem to be getting worse — you should isolate. But once you’re fever-free without the aid of medication for 24 hours or have symptoms that are mild and improving, you’d be good to go.

Dave Daigle, the associate director for communications for the CDC’s Center for Global Health, told me in an email that people who get sick while traveling should separate themselves from others as much as possible, although he did not say for how long.

Sick travelers should also monitor their symptoms and follow local guidelines as well as health-care provider instructions. They should also stay up-to-date on vaccines (including ones for covid), wash their hands, cover coughs and sneezes, and wear a mask when around others when sick.

“Before your trip, make a plan for how you will get health care if you get sick or injured when traveling,” Daigle said, noting that’s especially important for senior citizens, pregnant women, people with underlying medical conditions and people who will be traveling for more than six months.

I asked European travel planners and guides for their take on your question. Rome-based cookbook author and tour guide Katie Parla says if you’re sick, she’d recommend wearing a mask, sticking to outdoor activities, downloading local food-delivery apps, “and for sure cancel your food tour or wine tasting.”

Sandra Weinacht, travel planner and co-owner of Inside Europe Travel Experiences, said clients don’t ask about covid issues anymore, but her friends in Germany say people who are “nice and considerate” wear masks if they’re sick.

Terika L. Haynes, a travel planner and owner of Dynamite Travel, says travelers should still take covid seriously and recommends that those who get sick while traveling should head to the nearest doctor or pharmacy, or try an online telehealth service right away.

If you are concerned about illness derailing your trip, follow the CDC’s recommendation to consider travel insurance in case you need medical care abroad or a policy that allows you cancel for any reason.

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