Biden Administration May Impose Testing Requirement For Domestic Travel

The U.S. is now considering requiring testing not just for international travel back to the U.S. but for domestic travel as well.

The Biden administration is “actively looking” at expanding mandatory COVID-19 testing to travelers on U.S. domestic flights, a senior Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official said on Tuesday.

On a call with reporters, Dr. Marty Cetron, director for the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine at CDC, was asked about whether new domestic travel testing requirements might be employed. Cetron replied that there were “conversations that are ongoing and looking at what the types and locations of testing might be… We’re actively looking at it.”

There may have been merit in this a year ago. Now it’s unlikely to make a big difference. Both in the past, and now, the challenge for effectiveness is availability of cheap widespread at-home tests that people can take every day. Ultimately my guess is we don’t get there until it’s cheap and easy because of the strength of airline lobbies, unless it’s paired with a third government bailout to buy them off as a constituency.

  • Early in the pandemic the government discussed shutting down domestic air travel, not just bans on certain travelers from China, Europe, etc. This isn’t a new idea.

  • Shutting down travel has been important in places like New Zealand and Australia. In Australia you couldn’t travel between states (unless you lived right on the border where you might get a permit to cross). This is harder to accomplish in the United States, with more porous borders, 60 undocumented immigrants were just found staying in a Texas hotel. Even if testing requirements applied to land borders, it wouldn’t have applied to them..

  • These bans were blunt instruments because we lacked adequate testing at the time. We didn’t know where the virus was or to what degree. That’s why in many parts of the country shutdowns came too early, we shut down in places where there simply wasn’t meaningful virus spread and ‘wasted’ that part of the toolkit. And the lack of testing was because the FDA wouldn’t allow non-CDC tests, and CDC tests didn’t work – we were blind.

  • Now the virus is spreading rampantly throughout the community (though cases and hospitalizations seem to have plateaued and even perhaps have started to fall to a still very-elevated level). Shutting down domestic travel won’t stop that, though there’s concern about stopping spread of mutating strains of the virus – the South African and Brazlian strains seem to present the greatest risk at the moment.

  • Testing is imperfect, especially 3 days before travel and antigen tests (which are great identifying current infectiousness but less good at finding future infectiousness).

  • In order for a domestic travel testing requirement to work we need cheap, real-time testing. And at that point it could be used for more than domestic travel, but by restaurants. They could ensure all diners that everyone has just tested so it’s safer to dine inside.

Widespread cheap at-home self-testing would do a lot to cut down on spread of the virus, and could be used by travel companies and others to open up broadly. This would allow for more travel, more dining, more life rather than less.

Testing is cheaper and more available than it was months ago, but health bureaucrats need to worry less about 100% accuracy and demand 100% results reporting to the government. $1-$2 paper strips that people could use on their own every day, and link results to an app that showed they’re clear to engage in activities for the day, would make a huge difference.

Just imposing requirements for travel, without solving the regulatory hurdles to cheap available regular testing, isn’t likely to contain the virus while still incurring significant costs.

Continued infection and vaccination will hopefully bring the virus under control over the next four months, such that any policy may look successful.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
    – CS Lewis

  2. Perhaps we should just forbid air travel and most business transactions all together.
    People can lockdown at home and the Federal government can just continue to print money, directly deposit it into our accounts, and we can have the few remaining functioning businesses deliver products, such as groceries, to our residences.
    What could possibly go wrong?????

  3. I Like Biden’s idea, to say the least! Anything better than claiming voter fraud when the only fraud was #45 along with his hinge men and cronies.

  4. I agree with GB though that’s not relevant. I don’t see what difference this would make for bus, train, truck or car travel, though perhaps will cut down a few cases on aircraft. Is the effort worth the result? I doubt it.

  5. True lockdown for 3 weeks is more effective than harassing air travelers. The exception would be if there is a new mutation that is highly localized, which is not the case. If that were the case, land testing at county borders would help.

    Biden previously advised to stay off planes, trains, elevators when there was a threatened flu

  6. This will harm the economy, not make a difference in terms of the pandemic, and directly lead to an increase in traffic deaths (as always happens when you suppress air travel). Families will choose to travel by car instead of air (to avoid the cost and difficulty of testing) and more people will die. Like so many government programs it will fail to accomplish its intended purpose while causing significant unintended consequences.

  7. Would this even be constitutional?

    What about the next Wuhan virus? Once you impose this, you might as keep it forever because there is always another pandemic.

  8. Until every state and county agrees to the same restrictions and actually performs them, restricting domestic air travel won’t help much. There are a lot of elected officials that still claim this whole thing is a hoax despite all evidence to the contrary, and until they are gone no progress can be made

    We need a proper nationwide lockdown for a month or two, which isn’t going to happen with those officials in charge of their little fiefdoms.

    We also need some sort of financial support for everyone in the lockdown, which is apparently not allowed in this country either.

  9. It’s amazing that we’re almost one year in and Gary and a significant number of his minions still haven’t figured out the con. It makes you wonder if they ever will.

  10. Having a testing requirement for travel is not a good option because it’s riddled with holes and because it will have the unintended consequence of mostly eliminating those least likely to spread the virus from traveling while likely giving a pass to many of those who are most likely to spread the virus. The issue is how contagious people are and when. Studies are showing that in the hours/days leading up to symptomatic or asymptomatic infection may be a period where virus spread could have its most potency whereas the period later on in the infection cycle points to a much lower potency of virus spread.

    Then there’s the fact that the 72 hour window is a joke where anyone could contract the virus after they got their negative test.

    If the goal of the testing requirement is to remove air travel as a virus spread vector, that goal can realistically be achieved only one of two ways:

    1) Mandatory 14 day quarantine upon arrival for domestic air travel. This would stop virus spread via air travel in its tracks because the infected would have to ride it out alone.

    2) Mandatory proof of vaccination for air travel. This can be forged depending on what form it takes.

    Anything else is more PR stunt than effective deterrent.

    Not that I expect either option to be implemented. The 14 day quarantine would stop air travel cold in most instances (particularly leisure travel and whatever’s left of business travel) and the airlines would balk. The proof of vaccination option could eventually happen but it can’t happen now because the infrastructure just isn’t in place to build out the national system required to track vaccinations and also it’s impractical to implement this requirement until we finally reach the “anyone who wants a vaccination can get one” threshold and that’s months away, if not longer.

    Better to just leave things the way they currently are. For now.

  11. @ tassojunior : ״Hunter must be consulting for rapid-test companies now״

    Cracked me up. Comment of the year so far. Sad thing is it might be true – so corrupt I wouldn’t be surprised at anything. Politicians….yuck. Especially the Bidens.

  12. This means the government would have to totally fund airlines for the duration as no one will fly only cargo.

    How would they track quarantine? They can’t with international arrivals, I know I work for major airline.

    Let’s just get thru the vaccines and be done.

  13. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone ditched their political (mind control) affiliations and think for themselves, not by listening to pundits, talk shows and influencers, but the good old fashion (not lazy) way – research the facts using factual sources. Knowing that those sources are hard to find doesn’t make it ok to latch on to crap out of sheer laziness. Can we say brain rot!

  14. Jesus H. Christ. But for anyone who has been paying attention, this should come as no surprise. We get what we deserve. No wonder Kirby has United cozying up to the Biden administration. He’s going to need every penny of taxpayer money he can get, if he’s going to keep his airline solvent.

  15. Where are fake President Biden’s scientists that he promised to trust? Surely they didn’t sign off on Biden’s demented idea of testing before domestic flights! Please tell Biden’s caretakers to hide his pen set.

  16. sorry Capt Vasili you will now need papers just like at home in the USSR

    Capt. Vasili Borodin : I will live in Montana. And I will marry a round American woman and raise rabbits, and she will cook them for me. And I will have a pickup truck… maybe even a “recreational vehicle.” And drive from state to state. Do they let you do that?

    Captain Ramius : I suppose.

    Capt. Vasili Borodin : No papers?

    Captain Ramius : No papers, state to state.

    Capt. Vasili Borodin : Well then, in winter I will live in… Arizona. Actually, I think I will need two wives.

    Captain Ramius : Oh, at least.

  17. Everyone wants the economy open and to be able to travel. Well testing is the only way you get there during a pandemic. Because if you can’t tell who is actually infected, then you must treat everyone as if they are infected. Testing is also the best way to control a pandemic. The last administration didn’t like testing because they thought it would make them look bad. They didn’t test and still managed to look bad.

  18. People complaining after the Dump Regime literally had a Covid task force of 1 person?! 1 effing person who was, by the way, muzzled from telling the truth! Let that sink in. The adults are now working on this problem which as killed more Americans than every war of the 20th century! Get a grip Trumptard losers. Mask up, get vaccinated and get tested you filthy animals.

  19. Look at the CDC studies on short and long haul flights of COVID transmissions and judge for yourself. The evidence points to the fact that these precautions are warranted.

  20. Seriously, who is going to travel with even the possibility of a false positive keeping them at their destination for who knows how long?

    Those airline bailouts coming will have to be very large indeed.

  21. @ John – great idea! We don’t know who is too inebriated to fly either. So everyone should blow a breathalyzer before they board too. Maybe we could start testing for cold and flu too. Nothing pisses me off more than catching one of those when I fly.

  22. @ Gary, Continued infection (i.e. continued death) and a vaccine rollout that might reach herd immunity in the summer or fall will bring the virus under control — after at least 100,000 more dead Americans! The so-called “pro-life party” doesn’t get White Lives Matter much less BLM when it comes to loyalty to the Supreme Leader.

  23. FNT Delta Diamond,

    We have to engage in the TSA’s “ID is security” charade to fly by showing identification, and that flew without the courts stopping it. Adding a public health test requirement would probably fly as well for covered interstate travel.

  24. I may eat my words later, but this is too stupid, even for Biden. The reality is that Covid is EVERYWHERE in America now (few realize it, but it’s also quickly receding everywhere at the moment, likely due to seasonality). Very, very few people get infected with Covid on airplanes. So what would be the possible scientific justification to test domestic airline passengers? Why not test everyone who goes to a restaurant or to a supermarket? It makes not one fig of difference if an infected person spreads the virus in Miami instead of in their hometown of Los Angeles.. Now I suppose if it cost a buck and you could do an instant spit test at the airport, there could be some trivial benefit. But beyond that, the cost vs. benefit is so staggeringly different that you would have to be a complete idiot to adopt this idea. And the fact that elites won’t like it — and we always do things to help the elites — is the final nail in the coffin of this terrible idea.

  25. Someone should tell biden and his genius cabinet that mandating people stop breathing might do the trick much faster and cheaper in stoping the spread…

  26. I really think the point is, since you are asked to avoid all “non essential” travel, and there is no law that actually forbids it, make it as inconvenient as possible so people stay home where they belong! The less people expose themselves to different places, the less the spread!

  27. Indonesia is a vast archipelago nation and has a domestic air travel requirement for COVID-19 tests.

    If a relatively poor country like Indonesia can manage to have passengers fly domestically with a Covid-19 test requirement, why wouldn’t the US be able to manage the same kind of thing for domestic air travel? Surely all you patriots out there don’t believe the US is a basket case nation unable to outperform Indonesia.

  28. BAD IDEA. A virus is going to do what a virus is going to do. I fear the Vaccine more than the Virus and there are many who will NOT take the Vaccine. In some areas close to HALF the health care workers are refusing the Vaccine.

  29. “I fear the Vaccine more than the Virus and there are many who will NOT take the Vaccine.” Yes there are many uninformed people out there. Way to prove the point. Don’t worry there are plenty of people lining up to take your dose of the vaccine. Have fun getting covid.

  30. Study IFR – infection fatality rate.

    Study PCR High Cycle count.

    everything is exaggerated. 50% of deaths+ in nursing homes. What do people in nursing homes do? They don’t get out and shielded from the sun. Oh…and most who enter nursing homes die with in 6 months.

    Twitter – IanmSC –> good source to see it is seasonal and regional.

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