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.
Reduce risk of infected person traveling and infecting others. Vaccines, testing, and masks all part of a layered approach to combat virus and help keep people safer.
— LAflyer (@LAflyr) March 17, 2022
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.