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. Damn right @Gary. It’s costly, burdensome, and since the Sleepy Joe administration seems quite disinterested in the unwashed thousands pouring over our Southern borders without testing, I have to wonder, what’s the point?

  2. Canada announced today it’s eliminating the testing requirements for entry as of April 1.

  3. Agreed, this is such a PITA.

    It seems every other country, short of Noth Korea and Bhutan, have removed this.

    I’m all for testing, but BinaxNOW has enough of my money.

  4. No testing for U.S. citizens or permanent residents. For everyone else, mirror the policy of that person’s country. If U.S. citizens have to test to go there, so do their citizens coming to the U.S.

  5. End the testing requirement for entering the US now, and most especially for US citizens who are fully vaccinated. This testing requirement makes no sense in today’s environment of vaccines, advanced Covid medicines, and therapeutics.
    Although I am sure that narcissist Dr. Doom Fauci will find a nonsensical totalitarian government reason to keep the testing requirement, and Joke Biden will mumble his agreement!

  6. More like an optical illusion than optics. I absolutely agree with you, and now what? I wrote the White House what I think was a very clear letter on this and got back a form answer about how Covid is bad and we have to pull together. Wrote my senators and representative and got same or less, copied the CDC on the White House letter just for their records. It’s probably better to let
    r the airlines and travel industry in general know we’re behind them on removing this foolishness. Or perhaps writing that we’ll give them (and domestic companies with foreign resorts/hotels) less business until it’s gone. Any other suggestions?

  7. Adding another layer of ludicrousness to the whole thing is that the testing requirement was imposed on 1/26/2021, almost a year into the pandemic, and at a point when the incidence of infection was the highest in the world. Like the proverbial shutting the barn door after the horse is long gone.

    Might I also say that this rule was instituted a mere 6 days after Inauguration Day.

  8. I generally think your ideas are somewhat dangerous and derive from petty annoyance rather than fact or science, and your commenters are some of the most disgusting on the internet (I love coming here when I want to see racism and xenophobia flood out at the slightest inconvenience to rich, white men), but even I agree with you on this one. The science never made sense, we’ve all heard stories of people being able to fake the tests, and all-in-all it was more a punishment for travel rather than a need for protection. Other than a financial hit it didn’t really hurt anything, but it also didn’t help, and I think policies should be designed to help, rather than to be easy to do because no one was harmed by them. This charade needs to end for sure.

  9. The most galling part of testing and other COVID restrictions is that vaccinated and unvaccinated people are now treated the same (badly) by the current administration. Almost like they don’t care about people being vaccinated.

  10. “… it’s about optics.”

    Like everything else that’s taken place during this charade.

  11. These loser bureaucrats not only can’t let go of thier power but there too stupid to undo what they did. They will NEVER completely do away with masks and testing as they’re too afraid of becoming irrelevant again. I loathe these sub humans.

  12. Oh please ……..just blame the Biden administration for everything.
    Trump screwed this all up from the beginning. Wake up Republicans and stop drinking the Trump KoolAid

  13. It was time to retire it the moment it came into effect. The exceptions quietly covered more than 2/3 of all entries into the country (land & sea borders) so it seemed kind of pointless anyway.

  14. Jane, normally I agree with you. President Chump fulfilled the loony John Birch Society’s 1950s belief that there was an agent of Moscow in the White House and generally showed that he hated America (and himself). Also, he’s too arrogant to listen to those with more brains, which sometimes lets stupid “leaders” slide through. But when Biden took the 3 day before travel testing period, made it 1 day, and hasn’t thrown it out since…that’s just bad government.

  15. Gary actually supports testing. He says, “Testing for travel and everything else would be a coherent strategy.” Testing before coming home is easy and no burden for those who can afford international travel. I’ve done it three times. Piece of cake.

    Testing identifies people who are infected and apparently don’t know it. It lets those people seek medical assistance and isolate themselves to avoid spreading the infection. If I had Covid, I’d want to know it so I could protect my family, friends and coworkers and theirs. Think of someone besides yourself people. The notion that there is no benefit from testing is ludicrous.

  16. I agree with Jane I am no fan of. Trump but in a forum such as this I’d be respectful. Calling Biden President Chump, or whatever, shows a lack of class

  17. “What metric will tell you when we’ve reached the point that the rule is no longer necessary?”

    THis ^^^^ has been the problem w/ every covid mitigation strategy that has been foisted on Americans by unelected bureaucrats for the past 2 years, including for masking.

    Very few have been honest w/ data about current status or where the country or localities need to go in order to get rid of each mitigation strategy while we have seen repeated goal moving as well as “rules for thee but not for me” mentality – and THAT is why most Americans are through w/ covid whether they should be or not.

  18. Reality check:

    1. The reason for testing is to reduce the spread of the virus aboard closed vessels that bring visitors to the US. Like most such measures, testing is not 100% effective but it can increase protection in conjunction with other measures like masking and vaccination. Thus, to claim that testing should be dropped because it did not keep variants out, when any variant could well develop locally rather coming from outside is misinformed, misses the point and is irresponsible.

    2. To simultaneously drop masking and testing, especially when there is evidence of infection flare-ups in Europe and Asia-Pacific, including China, is a recipe for another disaster, at a time when the US, for a change, is doing relatively well compared to other countries.

    I think that arm-chair scientists and health policy makers should just can it, and let real professionals do their jobs, which they have been doing well once we elected a president who believes in science. There is no rush. Scientifically, one should avoid changing too many variables at once because if there is an undesirable or unexpected outcome, it would not be easy to determine the variable(s) that may be most responsible. First lift the masking requirement, see how that goes, and then if all is well, drop the testing requirement, while still requiring everyone to be vaccinated…

    G’day.

  19. Poland is worse. You must have a negative COVID test irrespective of immunization status within 24 hours of ARRIVING into the country even if you transit. Doesn’t matter if you have the EU COVID-19 immunization certificate. They waived this for the Ukrainian refugees though.

  20. drrichard/Jane – you two are idiots. How does it feel to be complete morons? Keep watching CNN and buying the lying liberal media lies. It is imbeciles like you two who are ruining America.

  21. john says: “The notion that there is no benefit from testing is ludicrous.”

    Who says there’s no benefit from testing? I get tested twice a week at my company. Sometimes employees are positive and they didn’t know it. So it’s good.

    Gary’s point is that arbitrarily requiring it for one specific activity that less than 1/3rd of the population does even once a year is bizarre. How about we choose some other activity that 1/3rd of the population does once a year, maybe attend buy a new cellphone, and we require testing for everyone whenever they buy a new cellphone.

  22. @drrichards. Weeks ago following your advice, I too wrote to my senators and the representative. Zero reply from all three. Nice……

  23. @David Miller — If people who make statements that can be factually documented are “idiots” or “morons”, what does that make you for failing to see what anyone who lived through the 4 years of the former guy’s failed presidency saw quite clearly?

    The question is rhetorical…

    G’day.

  24. DCS is correct, and Gary ought to monitor this site. Comments are out of hand, many without knowledge.

  25. Anyone seen Fauci lately?

    Of course it’s time to end it. This country is sooo effed. How many more years of this pathetic loser do we have left to endure? On the bright side, we don’t have to listen to anymore mean Tweets.

  26. Some seem to have conveniently forgotten the original requirement was a test within 3 days. Then it was stupidly shortened to 1 day.

    I can only guess they forgot because they haven’t left their bunkers in 2 years. I also guessthryve never TRIED to get a verifiable testing 1 day while traveling

    The 3 day was atleast doable. The 1 day is a miserable scramble to try and get in many foreign countries.

    At a MINIMUM we should return to nothing less than 3 days. Prefer none for vaccinated but atleast 3 days is more easily achieved.

  27. @SeanNY2, Gary says the testing requirement has had no benefit. “So far it has had no benefit.”

    You agree with me that testing is a benefit: “Who says there’s no benefit from testing? I get tested twice a week at my company. Sometimes employees are positive and they didn’t know it. So it’s good.”

    You and Gary seem to take the unusual position that testing is bad unless we always test. Testing is good. Testing before returning to the US included. Its easy and no financial burden. Lives have been saved. You think that should be stopped.

  28. @Patti, Complying with the one-day time frame requires more foresight than the three-day testing window but shouldn’t be impossible. What countries can’t get a PCR test result back in 24 hours? The last time I checked, an antigen test meets the U.S. requirements. Those results are almost instantaneous although false negatives are more likely. Greece had a two-hour turnaround on PCR tests for the standard price. Thailand had a six-hour turnaround on PCR tests. I think antigen tests should only be optional for vaccinated travelers.

  29. Testing is a major burden for travel to the USA. You can’t reserve hotels, VRBOs and car rental before your test if they are not cancellable. And now that airlines have removed (eg UA) or about to remove free changes to tickets, you are running huge financial risks in planning a trip to the USA.

    Learn to live with COVID, not bury your head in the sand.

  30. Gary writes “So far it has had no benefit. It did not stop any variants or waves. ”

    That is wrong. Things can have a benefit without stopping any variants. For example, if 10,000 people get vaccinated, that won’t stop a wave but could prevent some deaths. The same thing with testing, it could have saved some lives.

    I don’t mind harassing some foreigners and making them be tested.

  31. @Tim
    What metric you ask? When Brandon’s approval ratings get into the single digits (about 3 weeks or so)

  32. I am hoping that the restrictions will end soon. However how can you say that the restrictions didn’t reduce Covid transmission. Travel was a huge driver of Covid. Look at countries like New Zealand and Australia who had strong restrictions there was very little Covid. It wasn’t until they started opening up that Covid spread like wildlife. Fortunately there are more people vaccinated, a much milder dominant strain and therapeutics to reduce severity. That is why the restrictions should be lifted.

  33. @Greg
    The flu even common colds spread like wildfire every year…..and nobody gives a shit.

  34. In the end, Biden can do whatever he pleases. But if the COVID hysteria keeps going under his watch, among other incompetent policies, his terms will be finished come November. And most likely the Democrat Party as well.
    So, the question is not: “Should we end or not end the COVID Testing Requirement”? The question is: “Should we destroy the Democrat Party and end this Presidency, yes or no?”

  35. Wouldn’t you want your citizens to be able to get back home for more advanced treatment than shut them out at foreign countries? This testing rule should be scrapped as it doesn’t stop covid variant from spreading, absolutely no benefit!

  36. Well @john

    Tell us how many countries you’ve been in the past 2 years and how easy it was yo get that 1 day test while traveling

    Meanwhile, we’ve been in Dubai, Maldives, Turks, Honduras snd Egypt. Let’s compare hands in experience with getting tests.

    YOU?

    People should be required to state their hands on experience before blithely saying how easy it is.

    Balls in YOUR court.

  37. @Patti, I explained my experience. Did you actually read my comment?

    Which of your trips involved a one-day requirement and what was your experience. I take it you had serious problems getting an antigen test result in one day?

    Balls in your court.

  38. @DCS

    The current President doesn’t believe in science
    The on,y science he believes in is Politics

  39. @DCS
    The current President doesn’t believe in science.
    The only science he believes in is Politics

  40. Without the US testing requirement, there would have been more Covid-19-infected persons traveling on flights to the US. And the odds of me getting infected with Covid-19 would have been far higher if not for the government-driven layered approach to public health security measures applicable to my trips during the pandemic.

    I have appreciated the US testing requirement, and I say that as someone that has had to get tested way more to fly way more than the average flyer.

  41. I strongly suspect that I won’t need to have tests for my April flights back to the US.

    Even with Deltacron surging like crazy in Europe and becoming increasingly prevalent in the US, it still seems to me that the mask mandate will end during the middle of April, in-flight alcohol sales on AA will be back, and the Covidiots and others can carry on with their jolly ways along with no swab test for many of us to fly back to the US after heading out on international trips.

    Perhaps I’ll be wrong in my expectations this time, but for now I still doubt it. One thing I’m sure will happen: the Lord Trump worshippers will be out in full force complaining about everything and nothing under the sky and blaming it on Biden. Gas prices high in the US? Oh, it must be Biden’s fault, even as gas prices are higher in the UK and Sweden than in the US. That must be Biden’s fault too. It’s raining somewhere and Russia’s bombing Ukraine? That must be Biden’s fault too.

    ROTFLOL at the clueless, disingenuous Faux News fans with their limitless hypocrisy.

  42. GUWonder,
    if you believe in vaccines and boosters plus masks for yourself, why do you think everyone else should change their lives to accommodate you?
    we haven’t spent 2 years in covid theater and still come down to the same mitigation strategies that have NEVER been applied to any other respiratory infection disease which are endemic.
    It is time for personal responsibility and personal risk assessment to take the place of fear-mongering and pandering to the lowest common denominator.
    And then we need to have public hearings on this administration’s repeated shaping of covid policy based on how it improves the bottom line for Pfizer and why a dozen other mitigation strategies haven’t been pursued with as much vigor as they have been in other countries.

    Oh, and everyone that is worried about covid coming into the US by air needs to spend five nanoseconds on the southern border.

  43. @john

    Notice you failed to share all those countries you’ve traveled to and how easy it was to get tests.

    Getting a test can be easier in major cities but try finding one easily in places like Dahab, Egypt or Sorong Indonesia. Now add in getting other tests needed to go thru transit countries.

    When we had the 3 day requirement of a PCR, it was actually easier.

    And those free government tests, anyone who mentioned them needs to read the requirements …..The testing procedure must include a telehealth service affiliated with the manufacturer of the test that provides real-time supervision remotely through an audio and video connection. Some FDA-authorized self-tests that include a telehealth service may require a prescription.

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