U.S. Government May Require Covid-19 Tests For Everyone Arriving Into The Country

The U.S. started requiring negative Covid-19 tests for passengers arriving from the U.K. on Monday. These tests, which apply even to U.S. citizens, must have been taken within 72 hours.

Now the federal government is discussing expanding this requirement to other countries, and eventually all countries.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other U.S. agencies held a lengthy call with U.S. airlines Wednesday that discussed expanding COVID-19 test requirements to travelers arriving from other countries, sources briefed on the call said.

…The CDC expansion could eventually cover all U.S.-bound international air arrivals, officials said.

U.S. travel restrictions were ineffective at the start of the pandemic because the CDC performed poorly. Testing requirements are enforced by airlines and more likely to be applied consistently as a result.

And a testing requirement is superior to the current ban on travel the U.S. imposes on some places (like Europe and China) but not others (Bahrain, Qatar, Israel) that have some of the worst virus spread in the world.

However a testing requirement will not prevent community spread of the virus in the U.S. because the virus is already here and rapidly spreading. It might mean adding fewer incremental cases which could themselves add to the burden hospitals are facing.

It’s not guaranteed, though, that a testing requirement would replace blanket travel bans, though doing so has already been on the table, at least for the ban on travel to the U.S. by non-residents who have been to Europe in the past two weeks. The ban on travel from China, of course, makes little sense (there’s far less Covid there than here) but remains in place for purely political reasons.

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. If the US was serious about shutting down COVID-19:

    1. Close all borders
    2. Shut down all air travel (like the days right after 9/11)
    3. Close all in-person retail and dining. Contactless deliveries only.
    4. No in-person gatherings of any kind. Death penalty for violators.

  2. Well that’s a bit rich for the country with the worst record in the world for containing COVID!
    Really, no-one with 2 brain cells would want to visit that corona quagmire.

  3. How could this be done? It is legally very difficult to deny entry to an American citizen or American national returning to the United States. Surely, Trump wouldn’t. Maybe Biden, but absent thousands of new federal law enforcement officers the governors of certain states would not enforce a federal
    quarantine mandate on any incoming passenger without a coronavirus test or any incoming passenger with a positive.

  4. It’s a fig leaf of protection since it’s only going to catch those that test positive, not those who have it but don’t have enough virus load that will cause a test fail. And studies are showing that the greatest threat from spread occurs in the days/hours leading up to full blown infection which the test would miss. So this testing is going to wind up keeping out the people who, short of not having it, are least likely to infect others while allowing in those most likely to infect others.

    Let’s pause on that thought for a minute.

    Nor will it catch anyone who doesn’t have it before the test but catches it in the 72 hours after the test. Or while on the plane. Or after landing.

    The only thing that works is an outright travel ban. I’m not advocating for such but it’s the only thing that’s going guaranteed to stop outsiders from infecting people here. Everything else is more panic PR response than effective deterrent.

  5. Of course testing to ferret out those who are positive would have one potential benefit…keeping those who have it from traveling…potentially to locations where health care to treat severe cases may be constrained. Better to stay at home and ride it out than roll the dice and travel with it not knowing if it’s going to get worse to the point you need to be hospitalized.

    But as purely a “keep out the infected from spreading it here” deterrent…that strategy has more holes than a piece of swiss cheese.

  6. @FNT Delta Diamond
    I assume the government could have border control & airlines enforce it similar to having a valid visa for entering the US.

    However I don’t see any value of this. Corona including the new strain is already in the US, and with by far the most cases in the world however you want to slice the numbers, I don’t think international travelers is the problem.

  7. Talk about locking the barn door once the horse has bolted.
    Surprising that Lucky hasn’t mentioned this. But then he’s too busy flying around the world.

  8. I have no data but I suspect all of the spread in SoCal is caused by travelers from other states, not other countries. I commute through West LA and the SFV every day and at least 30% of the cars have out of state plates. I own a rental home on a street with several Airbnb’s and the street is FULL of out of state plates. Stop all the pointless domestic travel which is occurring en masse before looking at the tiny trickle of international arrivals.

  9. Lol, are people still listening to anything the CDC or government says ?

    If so, why exactly?

    This has been the greatest blunder in human history. We got scared of our own shadow, and now chastise ours friends and neighbors for it.

    World Population grew by 80million this year, and is approaching 8Billion.

  10. Covid-19 testing requirement to travel is a marginal response measure, and it’s estimated to have no more than a 5-9% reduction in the risk of a traveler spreading COVID-19.

    If the federal government is truly concerned about imported Covid-19, it would mandate and enforce a 10-21 day quarantine with mandatory repeat testing during the quarantine too and beef up general national testing and contact tracing. But instead we get this public health security theater of testing to travel, a testing requirement done in hopes of filling up planes (and airports) sooner than later regardless of the impact it has on this virus spreading.

    The government having a testing requirement to travel into the US while it’s failing to implement and enforce comprehensive on-arrival quarantine+post-arrival testing alongside robust contact tracing and testing is the equivalent of this:

    trying to use a school yard chain link fence to keep out mosquitoes from the school yard.

  11. FNT Delta Diamond,

    The Biden Administration could sort of do what the Trump Admin did earlier with its travel ban aimed at Europe: further limit the US airports into which flights from abroad are allowed to bring in passengers. But then they can limit international arrivals to states where the governors haven’t had a Trump-like history of acting as if Covid-19 is a hoax and being at least sort of in on the “let it rip” and associated “natural herd immunity” insanity. And if those whitelisted US POE states have governments willing and able to enforce a quarantine on arrival once the passenger gets landside, by the time the state and the feds get a court challenge to successfully toss/limit the quarantine on arrival, the travel demand and risk from the travel spreading Covid-19 would have already dropped in the meantime.

  12. Denying citizens and lawful residents entry if they cannot provide a COVID-19 test is a gross violation of Constitutional Rights and a gross violation of International Human Rights.
    And let’s think for a moment about the consequences. Suppose you are denied boarding from a plane arrive from say Amsterdam as an American. Will you be stuck in Amsterdam for whatever amount of time? What happens if you are on a visa? Will you overstay your visa now? Go to jail? What??
    The nonsense surrounding COVID-19 needs to stop. Air travel contributes a tiny fraction to positive cases. Also, for all the hysteria, the COVID-19 mortality rate is about 3%. Do politicians really want to cater to the hysterics and destroy the entire airline industry (yes, it will be destroyed if this lunatic policy gets implemented) for some small rounding error? SERIOUSLY???

  13. Testing before departure is better than nothing but insufficient to keep out more infections unless an enforced quarantine and further testing is also applied to all arrivals as GU Wonder says. That is Thailand’s process. Airline air crews must be subject to the same restrictions as passengers. At some point we should know if vaccinations can be substituted for a testing and quarantine requirement.

    To the extent the virus continue to mutate outside the U.S. into more contagious or deadly strains, more restrictions on international travel is the only way to keep the new strains out. Of course mutation domestically is also possible.

  14. I agree with Ed ! Getting a test only shows whether you have the virus at the specific time of the test. Our sister in law, 82 years of age and living in a retirement facility, was tested on a Monday. Result was “Negative”. On the following Weds. she was tested again and was “Positive.” She was moved to a special wing with other Covid 19 patients.
    They did a great job of caring for her and she survived. One of the safest ways to travel is by plane. The powerful filters that have been installed and other precautions have kept travel by air the safest mode of travel.
    Read Ed’s last paragraph ! He is right ! The crazy “scientists” have got to stop scaring people ! I am 80 years Old and my wife is 79. We have traveled several times by air during the pandemic and will continue to do so !

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