President’s Team Ditches Idea Of Covid-19 Testing For Domestic Flights

Two weeks ago the Centers for Disease Control started floating the idea of requiring a negative Covid-19 test to fly domestically. Since then the airline industry went into high gear in opposition.

It turns out to be a bad idea, but not for the reasons most people think.

  • There are real concerns about the spread of variants of the virus (largely mutations in its spike protein) that could allow it to spread faster, and in some cases re-infect those who have had Covid-19 previously as well as reduce the effectiveness of vaccines. But those variants are already spreading well inside the United States. And we do so little genomic surveillance it’s likely more have originated in the United States. As long as the virus is spreading widely here, domestic travel restrictions won’t carry much benefit.

  • Restrictions on flying but not driving or other forms of transportation will do little. In fact, imposing restrictions on flying would encourage use of less safe means of travel, costing lives.

While the CDC pushed for this it never reached the point of talking seriously to the airlines about implementation. Still airlines rolled out arguments against it, and made their case to the White House’s Covid-19 response coordinator this week.

Airlines argue that an additional 700,000 tests a day is capacity the country doesn’t have, and would divert testing from more serious risks. The truth is though that the FDA could approve cheap paper test strips and make it easy for people to test themselves every day for about what Sally Struthers used to ask for on late night infomercials. For the price of a Starbucks cup of coffee, you could get pretty good assurance you aren’t infectious…

People are faking negative tests even when they don’t have the virus as it is, because getting tested is too inconvenient and too costly. That’s the problem we should be attacking: making testing cheap and convenient to do by yourself at home. The technology exists but without that airlines are right the approach would be dumb.

Fortunately White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday that there’s no intention to impose a testing requirement on domestic air travel.

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. Lol, so disappointing it is comical. Team Biden – the science dream team – bans travel to developing economies such as south africa but won’t even take the most basic steps to implement health checks in US. You know, where risks is high. Biden Apologist is the wings revving argument about dangerous variants: they are already here. There is just no sequencing done in most states to find them. And no plan from your guy to address the problem. Absolute smoke and mirrors from a hugely disappointing president. Trump was a clown. Biden is simply incompetent.

  2. Ok, so Hunter doesn’t have a deal going on after all? Just kidding:)

    But, seriously – what a flip-flop. If this was the previous admin they would lambasted for it. Not saying the previous admin was not chaotic – it most certainly was.

    This makes the case for additional ‘support’ for airlines even weaker (one could argue that if this was mandated it greatly further damage the airlines). But, of course this won’t stop them or the admin. I do wish one leading country in the world would let some airlines fail at some point instead of injecting more & more cash.

  3. This episode of security theater played to bad reviews. Will Justin Trudeau get the message?

  4. “As long as the virus is spreading widely here, domestic travel restrictions won’t carry much benefit.”

    I agree this is true in general in the broader scheme of things, but it may not be true right now. Florida accounts for 1/3 of all detected cases of the UK variant. We are in a race against this variant, trying to vaccinate as many people as possible before this variant can take hold. If we, say, require testing on all flights from Florida, we might buy 1~2 weeks of time. Given the kind of exponential growth that this variant showed in the UK, and given what data we have in the US on its growth trends, those 1~2 weeks of time might mean that the amount of UK variant infections to seed an outbreak among a partly vaccinated population might DOUBLE. If we do a short-term clamp-down on new variants before we vaccinate much of the population, we have a shot at herd immunity, and we can proceed with the re-strained boosters at a reasonable pace. If we fail to do that, we start over on the nationwide vaccine rollout with booster shots re-strained for the new variants, and we are looking at prolonging the crisis for another year.

  5. @O.K. – that’s not going to stop the UK variant from spreading, it’s here to a far greater degree than ‘detected’ reports suggest because genomic surveillance in the U.S. is so limited, we just aren’t testing very many samples to find it. And air travel restrictions aren’t going to keep the virus in Florida, you’d need to basically quarantine the entire state if the virus was only in that state (military checkpoints) and you’d have to do real-time testing of any exceptions being made and you’d need to avoid making a single mistake. We’re not preventing the B.1.1.7 from spreading here, it’s probably 10% or more of the virus in the country at this point already. And not just Florida.

  6. please stop referring to it as the UK variant. it is highly racist to call a virus after the location where is it from.

  7. The cases in US started dropping almost linearly from Jan 8, 2021, essentially right at the time when everyone realized that Joe has a plan. Keeping that plan secret from everyone including the virus was a good idea – nobody has a clue how it works but everyone is happy with the results.
    The drop in Covid cases Canada mirrored the one in USA and they only have minimal vaccination efforts going. But Canadian bureaucrats are smart: they are introducing strict rules for quarantining international travelers right in time when cases are tending down steadily. In a month they will be able to claim a big success regardless whether or not their actual rules were effective.
    Cases in South Africa are also getting close to the low plateau they have been after the first wave that ended in August. Note that in South Africa the numbers of tests equates to about 14.4% of population whereas in US this number currently at 148%.
    Note that in US a PCR test costs about $100 + some labor ($20-30). I keep hearing that we need more tests in US but we are already #1 in the world if you count the number of tests per capita. I would rather see those $$ invested in developing more effective treatments.

  8. The UK variant of the China Virus and the South African variant of the China Virus need to be stopped I guess. If only China did not allow the China Virus to escape around the world the way China did, then we would not have a President who is a suck-up to China and their terrible CHINA VIRUS. It continues to spread around the world just like the Chinese are.

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