Test requirements for traveling to the United States? Here's what you need to know

As countries including Canada and Britain have lifted their Covid test requirements for vaccinated visitors in recent months, some Amer...


As countries including Canada and Britainhave lifted their Covid test requirements for vaccinated visitors in recent months, some Americans are furious that they still have to show a negative test to board a flight back to the United States.

Jason Miller, a 37-year-old software engineer who lives in Texas, is so frustrated with the rule that he recently sent letters to the White House and several lawmakers and began encouraging others to do the same. “I support the CDC, I always wear an N95 mask in crowds and when traveling,” he said. But, he no longer thinks the rule brings value, largely because “testing hasn’t stopped variants from entering the country.”

Other travelers have posted similar comments on social media, and much of the US travel industry has made it clear they feel the same way.

But they got little satisfaction from the Biden administration and public health officials.

On May 6, Jen Psaki, then White House press secretary, mentioned she was “unaware of a timeline” for ending the testing requirement and that the administration would base its decision on a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As for what, specifically, the CDC uses to determine whether testing is still necessary, an agency spokeswoman gave the vague explanation that it “looks at different indicators” and “evaluates all guidelines and orders against the latest scientific data and the state of the pandemic.”

Mandatory testing has not only created logistical hassles, it has fundamentally changed the experience of traveling abroad, travelers say.

“It’s always been at the forefront of my mind,” said Danielle Bradbury, 42, who recently spent 12 days in Israel for her medical device development work while her husband cared for their two children in Boston. . “Every time I left the hotel, I wondered what risk of not being able to go home I was exposing myself to?”

In January 2021when the CDC first instituted the rule that all travelers to the United States aged 2 and over must present a negative test or proof of recovery before boarding a flight, the United States has joined a sea of ​​countries experimenting with different ways to slow the spread of the virus across borders. A State Department statement announcing the requirement highlighted the difficulty of obtaining a test overseas, suggesting the rule was also intended to to discourage Americans to travel abroad. At that time, less than 10% of Americans were vaccinated and the number of cases was increasing, reaching a record high of more than 300,000 new cases January 8.

The tests were not the first travel limitation deployed by the United States. In the winter of 2020, President Trump banned visitors from China, much of Europe, Brazil and Iran. When President Biden took office, he added the testing requirement to the travel bans. (He also has extended the ban in India.)

In late 2021, the United States moved away from country-specific bans and doubled testing, shortening the travel window from three days to one day, even for vaccinated Americans. By then it had become clear that vaccinated people could also spread the virus. coronavirus. (Most unvaccinated foreign visitors have been barred from entering the country, even with tests.)

It depends on how you define success, said Jeremy Goldhaber-Fiebert, professor of health policy at Stanford University. If success reduced the number of infected people traveling to the United States, he said, the testing requirement achieved that.

“It certainly prevented people who tested positive from getting on planes and it almost certainly prevented some amount of transmission on planes and in airports,” he said.

The exact number of infected people who have been prevented from boarding planes is unknown, however, as no one knows if a passenger cancels a flight because of Covid. Most of the evidence is anecdotal; many people say they tested positive before returning home.

If success means keeping new variants out of the country, then it has failed, said Dr William Moricethe chair of laboratory medicine and pathology at the Mayo Clinic.

“The reality is that none of these measures have prevented the rapid global spread of any variant of concern,” he said.

But if the success didn’t prevent the arrival of new variants, but rather delayed their arrival so that hospitals and authorities could be better prepared, then it might have worked. Mark Jita professor of vaccine epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who has studied the effectiveness of travel requirements, said that’s what testing does well.

“Testing may prevent the peak from being reached so quickly,” he said.

Yet once a variant is already prevalent in a country, he found, a travel test has little effect.

Explanations from the authorities include preparation to enter a new phase of the pandemic, high vaccination rates and a determination that new variants are manageable.

“The current variant makes people less sick and the number of people admitted to intensive care is limited,” the Dutch government said. said in a typical statement in March, as it ended travel testing, among other Covid-related recommendations.

The main argument is that it doesn’t do enough good to streamline the hassle.

Dr. Tom Frieden, who was the CDC director during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, was among those making the point. “Between the super effective vaccines we have and Paxlovid, which is a super effective treatment, Omicron is less deadly than the flu in most years and we don’t require people to test for the flu before getting on a plane,” did he declare. “If a more dangerous variant emerges,” he noted, “that’s a very different situation.”

Others argue that it makes no sense to inconvenience so many people for a system full of holes. Antigen testing — an option for travelers to the United States — is notoriously unreliable in the early stage of infection, said Anne Wylie, microbiologist at the Yale School of Public Health. For this reason, she called the requirement a “hygiene theatre”.

The testing requirement isn’t just annoying for travelers, it’s economically detrimental, according to the US Travel Association, a trade group. In a recent letter to Dr. Ashish K. Jha, the White House Covid Coordinator, signed by more than 260 companies, including airlines, cruise operators, casinos, tourist offices, Disney parks and a zoo, the group has stated “the economic costs associated with maintaining the measure are significant.

“Given the slow economic recovery of the international business and travel sectors, and in light of medical advances and improving public health measures in the United States, we encourage you to immediately remove the requirement testing on arrival for vaccinated air travelers,” the group wrote.

A survey commissioned by the group found that 46% of international travelers would be more likely to visit the United States without this requirement. A similar survey by the Points Guy, a site specializing in travel with credit card points and miles, found that more than half of its participating readers would be more likely to travel abroad without the requirement.

Meegan Zickus, who runs a Facebook group for people with weakened immune systems, said testing has become more important since the mask requirement was scrapped. Without a testing requirement, most travelers won’t bother testing or staying home, even if they suspect they’re infected, she said.

“Judging from the past two years, the only way to protect others is some kind of forced test,” she said, because “the moral compass points directly to oneself.”

Dr Seema Yasmin, a public health physician and director of the Stanford Health Communication Initiative, echoed that point. “I would say it can give a high level of reassurance when 75% of people don’t wear a mask and can even cough and sneeze loudly,” Dr Yasmin said.

(Although aircraft ventilation systems appear to significantly mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, research suggests that people seated a few rows away still pose a risk to each other.)

“Some tests are better than none,” said Nathaniel Hafermolecular biologist at UMass Chan Medical School.

Many countries are also using testing to incentivize vaccination by removing the requirement for vaccinated people, said Meghan Benton, research director at the Migration Policy Institute, which tracks travel needs. The United States encourages vaccination in its own way by banning most unvaccinated foreign visitors from entering.

Given that there are currently at least four pending lawsuits challenging the international testing requirement, some are wondering if it could be overturned by a judge’s decision, as mask-wearing requirements on planes and the like means of transport was in April.

Lawrence O. Gostin, professor of global health law at Georgetown Law, doesn’t think so. The CDC may require testing of visitors entering the country from abroad due to the Public Health Services Act, which was explicitly created to prevent the introduction of dangerous infectious diseases into the United States, it said. -he declares.

The rule, he said, “would be extremely difficult to challenge successfully in court, even for the most conservative judges.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Test requirements for traveling to the United States? Here's what you need to know
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