Effective January 26 the U.S. will require a negative Covid-19 test within 3 days prior to departure, or documentation of having already recovered from Covid-19, for all air passengers flying to the country (citizens and non-citizens alike).
Here are 7 problems with the new rule imposed by the Centers for Disease Control:
- Denying travel home to Americans violates rights. The U.S. cannot legally deny entry into the country citizens. They’re not turning away people at the border. They’re requiring airlines to deny travel to people without documentation, which is in effect the same thing. The CDC can require people to quarantine, they can require airlines to take measures to avert health issues on board (airlines content there are no such issues because of HEPA air filtration, downward air flow and masks). But effectively denying citizens a right to return..?
- Policy turns Americans into illegal immigrants. Americans who either cannot access tests or test positive prior to planned travel will be overstaying Visas or other immigration requirements of the countries they’re in. So CDC rules put citizens in the position of being outlaws.
- Testing rules lead to confusion. There’s no guidance on which tests are acceptable at this point. There’s two weeks before this goes into effect, but travelers abroad need to plan for testing to come to (or return to) the United States. Airlines are supposed to deny boarding to people without acceptable testing. Some countries and some states have published details of acceptable labs to handle testing, which creates its own challenges, but here there’s no guidance.
- Prior infection exception leads to confusion. There’s no guidance on what documentation is required to prove having had Covid-19 already and recovered. This documentation isn’t going to be in a standard format, or even likely in English in many cases.
- Still lets people with Covid-19 travel to the U.S. It’s still possible for citizens to fly to Mexico and then walk or drive across the U.S. border, so the rule doesn’t keep people out who may have Covid-19.
- Testing 3 Days In Advance Doesn’t Catch Some Caes. Testing three days prior to travel doesn’t mean someone hasn’t become infected – and infectious – in the time since then. The U.K. variant is already spreading in the U.S. And we don’t even know how widely because the CDC has been testing only 10 virus samples per stay every two weeks. Greater genomic surveillance, and FDA approval for widespread at-home self-administered tests with immediate results would do more to contain the virus than travel restrictions. The B.1.1.7 variant is here, and already expected to become dominant, barn door and whatnot (if the barn door itself had holes in it greater than the size of the horse anyway).
Ireland B.1.1.7 sequences of total assayed:
week of Dec 27th: 9%
week of Jan 3rd: 25%
Jan 10th: 46%
UK evolution https://t.co/WXfABI6PaZ
How long will it take for the US to get to >40% B.1.1.7?
less than 12 weeks pic.twitter.com/Bjwga41hpW
— Eric Topol (@EricTopol) January 12, 2021
- Restriction may be tough to get rid of. There’s no announced standard for when the requirement lifts. Once put in place inertia alone makes restrictions tough to remove. We still have a ban on travel from China, in place since January, when the virus has been largely under control there for 10 months.
This new testing requirement isn’t going to control spread of the virus, which is already running rampant throughout most of the country. It isn’t going to stop entry of new variants of the virus, which are already here (and which we’re doing little tracking of in any case).
We need fewer barriers to low-cost at-home testing. We need greater tracking of new variants of the virus. We need more rapid approval and deployment both for Covid-19 treatments and vaccines. A travel ban that applies internationally, but that does nothing to limit spread via travel within the United States, at what’s likely the tail end of the pandemic is purely cosmetic but may have long-lasting consequences.