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Health Team

Is it safe to travel if I've already had coronavirus?

Posted December 19, 2020 4:37 p.m. EST
Updated December 19, 2020 8:00 p.m. EST

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a strong warning against travel for the holiday season on Dec. 2, asking the public to postpone their holiday plans. But, Many Americans will likely travel anyway this holiday season.

As of Saturday, more than 17.5 million Americans have already contracted coronavirus, according to the CDC. For those Americans, does the travel warning apply to them?

Experts say yes.

Scientists have found that our bodies may have some sort of natural immunity against the virus for three months. But there is still much left unknown about natural immunity against the virus.

Antibodies -- which develop after an infection -- are only one arm of the body's defense and they naturally wane over time. The CDC still recommends after someone catches the virus to socially distance and wear a mask.

Coronavirus reinfections have been rare, but can still happen, experts say. It is not yet known whether people who have been reinfected with coronavirus but show no symptoms could spread the virus to others, which is why its important to wear a mask and social distance even if you've already been infected.

"The message I really want people to hear is that if you have had COVID-19, that doesn't mean you are safe from a reinfection. You should still practice social distancing. You should still wash your hands diligently. Wear your face mask everywhere that you go," said Dr. Alexa Mieses Malchuk, an assistant professor of Family Medicine at UNC Chapel Hill.

The same applies for people who have tested positive for antibodies. It's currently impossible to know from an antibody test whether someone is immune to the coronavirus, according to Dr. Celine Gounder, an epidemiologist and clinical assistant professor at New York University.

"All you can say from an antibody test is that somebody has been exposed," Gounder told CNN. "You can't really say anything about immunity."

Many countries have begun discussing the use of "immunity passports," that would allow people to travel freely if they could prove they already contracted coronavirus or have antibodies. The World Health Organization said in a statement there "is no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection."

"People who assume that they are immune to a second infection because they have received a positive test result may ignore public health advice," WHO officials said in a statement.

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