Testing (almost) everyone will keep some people with the virus from coming into the country, some of whom would have spread it further. But travelers aren’t a primary driver of Covid-19 in the U.S. presently.
There is certainly a concern over mutated strains of the virus which are more prevalent elsewhere, but bans on some non-resident travelers entering the U.S. who have recently been to some of those destinations won’t prevent those strains from coming into the country (and genomic surveillance in the U.S. is so weak we don’t have much sense of what is here and what isn’t in any case).
Still, if there’s some benefit to testing then it’s strange to,
- Accept rapid antigen tests, yet
- Exempt airline crew from testing
Antigen tests are great at revealing current infectiousness, but aren’t as good at catching early bits of virus (someone may have been infected but not yet test positive). They can deliver results quickly (less than half an hour) which makes them easier to work with than PCR tests.
In fact Hyatt has announced that all of their resorts across Latin America (including the Caribbean, Mexico, Costa Rica, and South America) now offer complimentary testing (2 tests per room, minimum length of stay on property may apply to qualify). Anyone delayed by testing (a positive test, a test that ages out of eligibility due to flight disruptions) can take advantage of a Travel Delay Rate for up to 50% off room and 30% off food and beverage.
That’s great adaptation to the current reality, born out of desperation to win business from Americans in the face of new travel requirements. And it’s a reason crew exemptions are concerning, airlines should be able to adapt too.
In fact I’m told that United Airlines is scheduling U.K.-based crew to work London – Newark – Mumbai – Newark – London, London – Chicago – Delhi – Chicago – London, and London – Washington DC – London. This is roughly 80 UK-based crew entering the US every day exempt from the CDC’s new testing requirement, with the UK one of the epicenters of a new SARS-CoV-2 mutation of concern.
I’ve reached out to United to ask for their take on the advisability of bringing U.K. crews into the U.S. without testing when the CDC testing requirement has been spurred by concerns driven by the U.K. B.1.1.7 and other new variants of the virus. They haven’t responded but will update if that changes.