The Bahamas Testing Requirement For Americans Is Covid Security Theater

The Bahamas is trumpeting their re-opening plan to welcome tourists. Americans can visit with a negative Covid-19 PCR test and filling out a health screening.

The Bahamas has confirmed 116 cases, and believe it has just 12 active cases in the country, one of which is hospitalized. They want to keep the virus out of the country, but open themselves to tourism for the economic activity, especially from the U.S. So they have requirements, but they’re trying to make those requirements not especially onerous. The Covid-19 test just has to be within 10 days of travel.

Some testing labs in the U.S. are backed up a week, making it difficult to get tested and obtain a result in shorter timeframes. However a negative test from 10 days ago doesn’t tell anyone very much.

  • I’d almost prefer a positive test from 10 days ago, that would mean there’s a very strong likelihood the traveler is longer shedding live virus.

  • Or a positive test that’s even older, or in the alternative an antibody test (or perhaps two different antibody tests to make sure the results are consistent). While there are recent studies that antibodies wane quickly, or a period of a few short months after someone has had the virus, there’s new data on t-cell responses showing both that they are persistent after antibodies disappear and that they likely provide cross-protection as a result of exposure to common cold coronaviruses. (This is hardly the last word, and caveat that t-cell immunity effectiveness tends to diminish with age but this new paper is very encouraging as well.)

Neither of these are perfect, you can recite all the reasons why someone still might be a theoretical risk, but it seems less of a risk than accepting a 10 day old negative test. Showing that a passenger didn’t have a virus 10 days ago (false negatives notwithstanding) doesn’t seem super-predictive of whether or not they have it when they arrive in a country.

You must wear a mask when entering the country, when in a taxi or standing in line for attractions – as well as while waiting to be seated in a restaurant and checking into your hotel. You even need to wear a mask when entering and exiting beaches and before and after exercise (you must have the mask visible – but it doesn’t have to be on – while you’re exercising). And there’s a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew where tourists must be on their lodging’s property.

There’s even a fine of $200 or one month’s imprisonment for violating the mask order. This seems like a more serious approach to protecting the islands from the virus than a 10-day old negative Covid-19 PCR test.

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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  1. Yes but how does this affect American Airlines? I expect more from ‘View From the American Airlines Wing, brought to you by American Airlines’.

  2. My family of four is departing Boston on Jet Blue tomorrow morning (6/17) for Aruba. Aruba has a similar procedure, except that tests have to be taken and uploaded 72-12 hours prior to U.S. departure, and you have to pay $15/day for each day in Aruba for insurance for quarantine care in case you come down with symptoms once there. There are additional opportunities and/or restrictions to have the PCR swab done on landing in Aruba, depending on what state in the US you are from, with many states listed as more restrictive. Fortunately, while it does require jumping through hoops to get the tests done and a downloadable result (as opposed to a phone call result) obtained in that window, it is now possible in Massachusetts to do this in most communities on a walk in basis without needing a prescreened reason. Of note is that our tests were sent to MIT’s Broad Institute for processing, which is newly geared up for fast processing of lots of tests. And fortunately Jet Blue still has middle seats empty…

  3. I am going through the testing right now for bahamas and you are a bit wrong. You can get a rapid PCR test. But it’ll cost about $100-$200. Results in 2-3 days.
    So yeah they’re keeping people out who can’t get the test, get the wrong test, or are positive.
    Sure you can get it after the test, but it’s a heck of a lot better than what we are doing by mandating…..nothing.

  4. Too much hassle. 2020 is a bust year for travel. In other news, the EU today announced a further two week ban on U.S. travelers to the EU.

  5. Caribbean and Mexico showing their desperation for US money.

    Rest of the world needs to stay strong and ban Americans for the rest of 2020.

  6. Think I’ll pass – Been to Bahamas a couple of times and wasn’t on my list to return to anyway (prefer Aruba and St Kitts). I’m not that worried about the test (although agree 10 day old test doesn’t mean a lot) but I’m not paying to travel now with all the mask and distancing requirements (including reduced capacity or closure for many tourist related areas). I am traveling in the US (haven’t flown since March but will again in September) and put up with all the requirements since I agree they are necessary. However, not going out of the country right now.

    I do have a trip planned to Germany in November (assuming Americans can go by then) but it is also with points which I can easily cancel and get reinstated and the hotel can be cancelled with a couple days notice so really no risk to that trip.

  7. Travel? No thanks. Too many restrictions and too much risk. The people rushing to go on leisure holidays right now are the people most likely to be cavalier with their health and hence the most likely to infect you. If the tests were a whole lot more reliable and more recent then maybe its something to consider, but there are too many false negatives with these tests. If people just stayed put for a few weeks we could get this under control. Instead people insist on trying to plan non-essential travel which will lead to further spread. Personally I don’t want to see my state shutdown again and I would like to be allowed into europe and asia again someday if the covidiots would just do what is necessary to control the spread in their home states.

  8. @bill

    Couldn’t agree more. Look, people, just don’t bother with travelling this year. Somehow, those that are still travelling seem to think that they are immune. If you fit into this category, then there’s a few points you need to know:

    1. You can have the virus and not know it, but still spread it
    2. There’s zero evidence that you can’t catch it again

    Do the world a favour: Sit at home. Learn a new skill. Taxidermy. Backgammon. Tax Law. Whatever. Just stop travelling. Then, and only then, will the US cease to be 2nd only to Brazil in the number of deaths

  9. Cavalier about it? Well, that’s a bit cavalier. There are risks to everything. You have to learn to manage the risks. Sometimes the solution can be worse than the problem. Pick your poison.

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