Covid-19 is already spreading widely in the community, although the absolute peak of infections in the U.S. has appeared to have passed. Requiring testing won’t stop Covid-19 from taking hold in the community. It won’t stop the B.1.1.7 U.K. variant, either, which appears already on its way towards becoming dominant. Domestic travel restrictions could help if the country were in a position to contain, rather than just mitigate, the virus. However placing restrictions on air travel alone would be insufficient to accomplish this.
However air travel restrictions may actually compromise public health, rather than contributing to it or even being neutral.
Making travel more costly doesn’t necessarily mean Less travel it often just means a different mode of transportation. So it doesn’t cut down on spread. Instead it shifts people to travel in ways that are less safe. Driving isn’t as safe as flying (and neither is Amtrak). Making air travel less convenient and more costly means more driving, and more people the road means more car accidents. Pushing people to make more dangerous choices is often referred to as ‘statistical murder.’
On a majority of days a majority of flights between Houston and Dallas are running $67 each way. That’s an easy drive as well, but a route that’s been bread-and-butter for Southwest Airlines since its founding (and is operated by American and United as well, into other airports). A testing requirement could triple the price of a trip like this.
The increased hassle of TSA screening has, in fact, meant more people driving on shorter trips, resulting in 500 additional auto accidents a year. The time, hassle and cost of Covid testing is much greater.
The question about whether to impose a Covid testing requirement shouldn’t just consider whether it can stop the spread of the virus, and how it compares to other potential public health interventions. It has to consider potential unintended consequences as well.