It’s Time To End The Covid Testing Requirement For Travel To The U.S.

The U.S. requires a negative test for Covid-19 to fly to the United States. Non-residents must also be vaccinated. But what possible benefit does testing the day before travel bring from a public health standpoint protecting the country from the virus?

So far it has had no benefit. It did not stop any variants or waves. And there is no narrative for how it even could in the future. Instead it was a tool to make bureaucrats feel comfortable relaxing bans on European and other travelers, and it made it appear that the administration was ‘doing something’.

But we should lift the testing requirement for U.S. entry when lifting the mask mandate in a month, when it will be past overdue to sunset both policies.

  • Testing isn’t going to keep out new variants. It didn’t keep out Omicron. An antigen test the day bedore doesn’t come close to catching all infection and mutations in the virus coevolve in different parts of the world including the U.S.

  • We aren’t ‘pursuing an eradication policy.’ Covid is here and we are living with it. Keeping a case out doesn’t change the trajectory of the pandemic.

  • Focusing on one area to the exclusion of even riskier activities makes no sense. Vaccination requirements to enter for non-citizens make travelers less likely to have Covid than the median patron of a Miami night club. If we’re requiring testing for travel, why not for other activities that involve greater risk of spread? Testing for travel and everything else would be a coherent strategy. Testing only for international travel is too little to matter.

  • People get Covid every day in this country already. So what if someone enters the country with Covid? Then they’re like tens of thousands of people every day in the U.S. who get it. Hospitals aren’t at max capacity and we have treatments. Everyone should stay home if sick and that goes for things beside Covid, too.

I’ve been struggling to come up with an argument in favor of continuing the requirement for a negative test to enter the United States. I wanted to be fair and present both sides, so I crowdsourced on twitter. Only one person was willing to make a non-sarcastic case for the policy, which is that traveling with people who have tested negative is lower risk than traveling with those who haven’t. Of course there’s no testing requirement for domestic travel.

Merely ‘catching something’ isn’t enough to justify intrusive restrictions on travel, it has to be catching something that represents an existential risk to the country. We’re only requiring a negative Covid-19 test for a small subset of flights anyway.

And if you’re going to impose requirements then it’s incumbent to also articulate the off ramp. What metric will tell you when we’ve reached the point that the rule is no longer necessary? Consider:

  • We have vaccines and boosters, exceptionally protective against the bad outcomes we’re concerned with

  • We have treatments that keep people out of the hospital when they do catch it (small molecule inhibitors like Paxlovid, monoclonal antibodies)

  • U.S. hospitals aren’t overwhelmed

  • The seven day moving average of confirmed cases is down over 96% from peak and is below 10 per 100,000 nationally

Any advocate for testing travelers entering the United States needs to articulate what benefit the testing provides now, why it’s enough of a benefit to justify the restriction, and what condition needs to exist to remove the rule. No one has even tried to do that, because the testing rule isn’t about protecting the country from Covid-19 (it cannot do that) it’s about optics.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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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Comments

  1. @ Patti, I shared the countries in my comment Patti. Greece and Thailand. Right there in the original comment! The PCR tests were easy to get. No problemo! Viral antigen tests were even faster turnarounds than the PCR tests in the countries I visited. So what countries did you go to where they couldn’t meet the requirement?. I asked because it would be helpful to know, but you got all offended.

    You should read the testing requirement because you actually have more than 1 day to get the test. If the flight is on Friday, you can get tested any time on Thursday.

    “The 1-day period is 1 day before the flight’s departure. The Order uses a 1-day time frame instead of 24 hours to provide more flexibility to the air passenger and aircraft operator. By using a 1-day window, test acceptability does not depend on the time of the flight or the time of day that the test sample was taken.

    For example, if your flight is at 1pm on a Friday, you could board with a negative test that was taken any time on the prior Thursday.”

    Its under the CDC timing requirements. You’re welcome!

    Do you want to keep playing?

  2. It’s a great article. I am
    Flying to the US next month and the added costs for 4 of us is 1000 USD for pcr test. So much money wasted.

  3. If someone believes in speed limits and vehicle safety testing plus driving licenses for themselves, why wouldn’t they think everyone else should change their lives to accommodate the same ways?

    Personal responsibility and personal risk assessment is insufficient to keep the roads safe for my use, and much the same can be said for those who have confidence in vaccines plus boosters plus masks plus more when it comes to public safety measures in the health domain and otherwise. Add that we all end up footing the bill for the legions of Covidiots, and why wouldn’t we all believe in joint responsibility and a common pursuit when it comes to a public health emergency?

  4. John, Jane, DCS, and the other Diehards on this site simply don’t and probably never will get the big picture. There is a huge financial and economic cost in keeping with the current testing requirement. I will use myself and my family as an example. We are All fully vaccinated yet we had to quarantine for 7 days in the Philippines prior to being Allowed to come back to the US. None of us had symptoms. We incurred a large financial cost and had to delay our return to work. Many people are now delaying travel for this very reason. Let’s try and keep politicians and politics out of this and make rational decisions based on facts.

  5. Michael we had to quarantine because that was the rule at the time (Feb 2022) in the Philippines. The only reason we got tested was because of the US requirement for re-entry and that is how the the Philippine government found out.

  6. My husband spent two weeks in Peru, where double masks are required. He tested negative on Tuesday, then flew home to the US on Wednesday. Thursday he didn’t feel well so I jokingly asked him if he wanted to take a Covid test. Positive. Well, maybe it was a false positive. Second one was also positive. The testing requirement to return home isn’t stopping anything from coming in to the US. We’re just thankful the positive result came the day after his flight, rather than the day before his flight.

  7. CMorgan is complaining that he couldn’t fly when he wanted to do so and had to quarantine in the Philippines because he and/or members of his family with him were positive for the Covid-19 virus.

    In other words, the complaint is about not being allowed to travel and spread the virus to her/his/their content.

    Thankfully, the test requirement was applicable for CMorgan’s trip and the positive test case did what it did: frustrate people from traveling and spreading this virus.

  8. John, Jane, DCS, and the other Diehards on this site simply don’t and probably never will get the big picture. There is a huge financial and economic cost in keeping with the current testing requirement.

    CMorgan

    Translation: “I’d rather save a few bucks than to spend the money on a test with the potential prevent me from spreading a deadly virus to my fellow earth dwellers…”

    It is truly sad when someone knows the monetary cost or price of everything but the value of nothing…

  9. It’s sad that posters such as DCS and GU Wonder have the inability to comprehend what someone else is saying and keep spitting out the same alarmist dialogue. They love to use the words “deadly” “spreading the virus” and so on. They seem to be stuck in 2020 not realizing that anyone who now wants to get vaccinated can do so and that the vast majority of those now getting the new strain have little to no symptoms! The ignorance portrayed is mind boggling!

    Starting to think that they either work for one of the pharmaceutical companies or own large shares of stock. ?

  10. <Starting to think that they either work for one of the pharmaceutical companies or own large shares of stock?

    CMorgan

    It is truly sad when someone sees only money in everything and everywhere, but knows the value of nothing…

  11. Starting to think that they either work for one of the pharmaceutical companies or own large shares of stock?

    CMorgan

    It is truly sad when someone sees only money in everything and everywhere, but knows the value of nothing…

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