As of today the U.S. now requires 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 8 things to know about this new requirement, which lasts until the government declares Covid-19 no longer a pandemic, or December 31, 2021, whichever comes first (unless extended):
- In addition to negative test results all passengers have to complete an attestation about their nesults.
- The requirement is “3 days” rather than 72 hours, the CDC is being very imprecise with its language.
- Assume what they mean is 72 hours. Airlines are the ones interpreting and enforcing and some may assume this from other guidance they’ve given about the requirement – that the relevant time (not just day) is based on when a flight departs (and departure is used, not arrival). And actual departure times are used – not scheduled departure times. This means if your flight is delayed your negative test may age out of validity. You’d have to be offloaded from your flight, schedule a new test and a new flight home.
- For a short trip (less than 3 days) a test taken in the U.S. prior to leaving the country can be used. Obviously it wouldn’t pick up any sort of infection from abroad. And you were ok to be in the country before you left..
- Rapid antigen tests work, not just PCR tests. That makes the testing within 3 days of travel much easier to meet. An antigen test can provide results in 30 minutes.
- A positive test within the last 3 months, along with medical clearance, replaces a negative test – and the letter from a health care provider doesn’t need to specifically mention travel.
- The testing requirement applies only to air travel. So a U.S. citizen could fly to Mexico without a negative Covid-19 test and then cross into the U.S. by land. (You can enter the U.S. by sea without a test as well.)
- Airline crew traveling to work an aircraft (including deadheading) are exempt from these requirements.
Hopefully the pandemic will come under control over the next four months, vaccination will be widespread (with data to support that this limits spread and not just symptomatic disease) and restrictions will ease. There remains some risk, though, that viral mutations could keep us chasing our tail for some time, and that the virus will resurface in the fall as well.