The holidays and winter break are usually a great time to visit family and friends. This year is different as we continue to face the challenges of the pandemic and rapidly rising COVID-19 cases across the county.  In an effort to help mitigate this spread, the commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Allegheny County have issued orders and advisories to limit travel and gatherings for the upcoming holidays.

The COVID-19 Medical Response Office (CMRO) strongly advises changing your typical holiday plans and taking extra precautions during the holiday period this year. The best and most effective option to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 is to stay home. With cases rising across the country, it is best to plan virtual interactions instead of in-person gatherings. If you do leave your home, please remember the commonwealth requires you to wear a face mask and practice physical distancing by staying six feet away from others. 

If you must travel, familiarize yourself with the risks of each type of travel and the commonwealth’s mandates.

According to Pennsylvania’s travel order, individuals—including returning residents—who are entering the state are required to have a negative test within 72 hours before entering or must quarantine for 14 days after arrival. If you cannot work remotely, speak with your supervisor to plan for returning to work in person, and remember that you can use sick time during your quarantine if needed.

You should also follow all current guidance from public health authorities including the CDC, Pennsylvania Department of Health and your local county health department. Additionally, anyone who experiences COVID-like symptoms should refer to our guidance for symptomatic individuals.

Remember that avoiding close contacts and exposure—not testing—is our best option for stopping the spread of COVID-19. If you have been identified as a close contact, a negative test result is not a reason to end your quarantine period before the 14-day mark. A negative result only indicates that SARS-CoV-2 was not detected in the collected specimen at the time of the test. Individuals who test negative may be carrying the virus at lower levels and could still spread it to others. This window of false negative testing usually occurs 4-5 days after a person becomes infected—but can still occur up to day 14.


University of Pittsburgh logo

Day 1

Casey was exposed
to COVID-19.

Day 5

Casey felt well and
tested negative for

Day 8

Casey enjoyed
Thanksgiving with
17 family members
while contagious.

Day 10

Casey developed
symptoms and tested
positive for COVID-19.
Don't be like Casey
this holiday season!


Test results are a snapshot of one brief moment in time. A 14-day quarantine before and after travel or if you think you may have been exposed, is the safest way to prevent spreading the virus.

We know it can be hard to talk with your family or friends about changing plans. Read about the importance of open dialogue in Pittwire.

Point Scale Risk Assessment of Travel

The CMRO has created a simple educational tool to identify high-risk situations and behaviors that you might want to avoid or alter when travel is necessary.

This tool is founded in evidence-based medicine and medical expertise that indicates:

  1. Wearing masks and physical distancing decrease the risk of virus transmission1-2
  2. Travel on public transportation can increase risk of virus transmission3-6
  3. Indoor activities create a greater risk than activities conducted outdoors7-8
  4. Activities that increase exhalation such as singing will increase the risk of transmission9-10

Please note: The scoring scale below for Travel Factors and Destination Factors is arbitrary, but the higher your points total, the higher your risk of acquiring or spreading the virus. For instance: Personal motor vehicles are the safest way to travel. However, if you travel by public transport, you can take steps to minimize risk. Rigorously practice masking, physical distancing, good hand hygiene and other mitigation behaviors while traveling.

Travel Factors Points
Traveling to a county with a higher virus case rate than Allegheny county 1
Traveling by airplane 1
Traveling by train or bus 1
Some travelers not masked 1
Travel time in airplane, train or bus > three hours 1
Connecting through a terminal 1


Destination Factors Points
Number of new close contacts formed per day (defined by CDC as having spent a cumulative 15 minutes or more within 6 feet of someone who was infectious over a 24-hour period, even if the time is not consecutive) 1 per contact per day
Number of bars or restaurants visited 1 per visit
  • Indoor at bar/restaurant
  • Masking and physical distancing not enforced
Number of social gatherings attended 1 per gathering
  • Indoor gathering
  • Masking and physical distancing not enforced
Number of public crowded places visited with limited masking or physical distancing 1 per place
Activity or event that increases exhalation without a mask and physical distancing is not universally maintained 1 per activity
  • Indoor event


The content above is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as medical advice nor a recommendation by the University on how to travel. The University is not responsible in any manner for the risks related to your travel. Members of the University community should make informed decisions about travel based on individual circumstances.


  1. Brooks JT, Butler JC, Redfield RR. Universal Masking to Prevent SARS-CoV-2 Transmission-The Time Is Now [published online ahead of print, 2020 Jul 14]. JAMA. 2020;10.1001/jama.2020.13107. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.13107
  2. Wang Y, Tian H, Zhang L, et al. Reduction of secondary transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in households by face mask use, disinfection and social distancing: a cohort study in Beijing, China. BMJ Glob Health. 2020;5(5):e002794. doi:10.1136/bmjgh-2020-002794
  3. Yang N, Shen Y, Shi C, et al. In-flight transmission cluster of COVID-19: a retrospective case series. Infect Dis (Lond). 2020;52(12):891-901. doi:10.1080/23744235.2020.1800814
  4. Shen Y, Li C, Dong H, et al. Community Outbreak Investigation of SARS-CoV-2 Transmission Among Bus Riders in Eastern China [published online ahead of print, 2020 Sep 1]. JAMA Intern Med. 2020;e205225. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2020.5225
  5. Eldin C, Lagier JC, Mailhe M, Gautret P. Probable aircraft transmission of Covid-19 in-flight from the Central African Republic to France. Travel Med Infect Dis. 2020;35:101643. doi:10.1016/j.tmaid.2020.101643
  6. Pombal R, Hosegood I, Powell D. Risk of COVID-19 During Air Travel [published online ahead of print, 2020 Oct 1]. JAMA. 2020;10.1001/jama.2020.19108. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.19108
  7. Lu J, Gu J, Li K, et al. COVID-19 Outbreak Associated with Air Conditioning in Restaurant, Guangzhou, China, 2020. Emerg Infect Dis. 2020;26(7):1628-1631. doi:10.3201/eid2607.200764
  8. Fisher KA, Tenforde MW, Feldstein LR, et al. Community and Close Contact Exposures Associated with COVID-19 Among Symptomatic Adults ≥18 Years in 11 Outpatient Health Care Facilities - United States, July 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2020;69(36):1258-1264. Published 2020 Sep 11. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6936a5
  9. Bahl P, de Silva C, Bhattacharjee S, et al. Droplets and Aerosols generated by singing and the risk of COVID-19 for choirs [published online ahead of print, 2020 Sep 18]. Clin Infect Dis. 2020;ciaa1241. doi:10.1093/cid/ciaa1241
  10. Hamner L, Dubbel P, Capron I, et al. High SARS-CoV-2 Attack Rate Following Exposure at a Choir Practice - Skagit County, Washington, March 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2020;69(19):606-610. Published 2020 May 15. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6919e6