If you are planning a trip to the United States, be ready for more rigorous testing requirements.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced last week that they have changed international travel requirements. Beginning Monday, December 6th, 2021, all international travelers entering the United States will be required to get tested within one day of travel, regardless of nationality or vaccination status.
The testing time is not based on the hour that you arrive in the United States; instead, it is based on the calendar day. This one-day period offers more flexibility than a 24-hour time limit, allowing travelers to take a test at any point the day before departure. For example, passengers with a 7 pm flight on Saturday can take a test at noon on Friday.
Travelers who recently recovered from COVID-19 are exempt from this test. Instead, these travelers must bring documentation of recovery from COVID-19. This documentation includes a positive viral test result taken no more than 90 days before the flight’s departure. In addition, a letter from a licensed healthcare provider or a public health official stating that the passenger is cleared for travel is required.
Passengers who choose not to present test results or proof of recovery will not be allowed to board the airline.
Travelers with one or more connecting flights to the U.S. will need to take the test within one day before the first flight’s departure. These passengers also have the option to get tested en route during one of the connecting flights. However, this will require some planning in advance. Passengers will need to determine where the testing is located in the connecting airport, and if they will have time in between flights to get tested. If you cannot access testing or test positive en route, you will be required to isolate in that location, and you will not be able to enter the United States.
Before these new rules were announced, vaccinated travelers were required to get tested within three days of international travel, while unvaccinated travelers were required to get tested one day before departure.
The CDC recommends that travelers get retested three to five days after arriving in the United States, but this currently is not a requirement. The CDC also recommends that unvaccinated passengers quarantine for seven days after travel, but once again, this is not a requirement.
Also Read: FDA Authorizes At-Home COVID Tests
There has been no change to the tests required for travel, so rapid antigen tests and nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs) still qualify, as long as the test is authorized in the country in which it was administered. Examples of NAATs include reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), transcription-mediated amplification (TMA), and reverse transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification (RT-LAMP), among others. A viral test performed for employees of the U.S Department of Defense (DOD) and tested by a DOD laboratory in a different country also meets the requirements of the new travel mandate.
Many countries offer rapid testing at local pharmacies, with rapid testing also being offered in airports. While these tests are convenient, travelers should note that these tests are usually more expensive. PCR tests may be popular but can take several days to return results. Because of this, travelers should get rapid tests accepted by the CDC so that they can get results back in time.
While some self-tests are accepted, not all are eligible for entry into the United States. The CDC states that the test must be performed before a telehealth proctor and adhere to other CDC qualifications.
If your test documents are in a language other than English, be sure to check with the airline before travel. Airlines must be able to confirm the test result and other documents, determining when translation is necessary.
Passengers flying to the States from a U.S territory, such as Puerto Rico, the U.S Virgin Islands, and Guam, among others, are exempt from presenting a negative COVID test.
The United States federal mask mandate was extended through March 18th, so masks are still required on airplanes, trains, buses, and within train stations and airports. Passengers and travelers who refuse to comply with the mask mandate may face fines between $500 and $3,000, depending on repeat offenders. This mandate does allow exemptions for those under the age of two and passengers with certain disabilities.
The new international travel requirements have come shortly after the U.S. opened its borders on November 8th to more global travelers on non-essential journeys, particularly for Canada and Mexico.
First detected in South Africa in November, at least 12 cases of the new Omicron variant have been found within the United States, three of which were found in Maryland on Friday, December 3rd. Currently, this variant has been found in a total of 23 countries.
With growing concern over this variant in the United States, President Biden has been working to address public unease. In his statements on Thursday, December 2nd, he remarked, “I’ll be putting forward a detailed strategy outlining how we’re going to fight COVID this winter – not with shutdowns or lockdowns, but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing, and more.”
President Biden also added that the new travel requirements would provide greater safety for travelers as scientists continue to learn more about the Omicron variant. These new measures have come shortly after the decision to ban travel from eight countries in southern Africa temporarily.
Biden also noted that he would likely consult with other world leaders before making additional travel requirements, which contrasts with how Trump, his predecessor, handled decisions regarding travel restrictions.
At a recent White House briefing, the Biden administration’s coronavirus response coordinator, Jeremy Zients, noted that they would continue to demonstrate flexibility with their strategy for slowing the spread of the virus. He also mentioned that there are no current plans for relaxing travel restrictions any time soon.
On Friday, Zients mentioned, “As we learn more about the variant over the coming days, on all of these fronts, decisions on changes to travel policy will be based on the advice, as they always are, of our health and medical experts.”
Also Read: Omicron The New Deadly Coronavirus Variant