CONFIRMED: US Will Require Negative COVID-19 Test For Entry From International Flights

There’s a report on most of the major news sites right now indicating that The NY Times is reporting the US will require a negative COVID-19 test for all passengers entering the United States via plane from abroad.  This would be a remarkable step.  But it also may be a logical evolution of COVID-19 policy as it relates to travel.

While we don’t have exact details, reports seem to indicate that this could go into place January 26, 2021.  Honestly, if this is needed to stop the spread of the more contagious variant we’ve seen from the UK, it would seem this should be put in place almost immediately.  The obvious downside there is the chaos it would cause.  Many countries aren’t setup for rapid testing, and it would make sense the US would require any test results would be fairly recent (likely within 72 hours of departure).

Further, the reports are that proof of the negative COVID-19 test would need to be shown prior to boarding a flight for the US.  There are a number of international airports with US pre-clearance facilities. But, most international airports with service to the US don’t have a pre-clearance facility.  That means setting up an outpost overseas or empowering airport or airline employees to verify test results.

As a small business owner who has dealt with COVID-19 in our restaurants I can tell you test results come in many shapes and sizes.  Some are difficult to determine whether the person actually tested positive.  There’s wholesale potential for fraud as well.  There’s not much in the way of certification that test results came from a doctor or clinic.

One Mile at a Time shares his opinion that the US may be considering this in an attempt to discourage international travel in general. I definitely think that’s part of the motivation here.  There’s also another likely consideration.  I was having a discussion with Gilbert from God Save The Points a few weeks ago about Delta’s efforts to operate flights with a 1-in-a-million risk of catching COVID-19.  He noted that countries will likely need some way to verify who has received a COVID-19 vaccine in the future.

As I think about that discussion, I could see the US trying to get a head start on that infrastructure.  The same sorts of procedures that would require inspection of a negative test result could also be deployed to examine vaccine results or vaccine “passports”.

The Final Two Pennies

If true, this sort of an effort is likely to cause further disruption to international travel.  Speaking only for myself, I would be even more cautious than I already am about traveling internationally with this requirement.  I’d want to research my destination before booking travel. My biggest concern would be to make sure there were multiple resources to get a quick, reliable test result overseas.  I’m already pretty conservative about travel since I haven’t gotten on an airplane in almost a year.

It still strikes me as odd that they would wait a couple weeks to put something like this in place.  If it’s critically needed, I would think the right way forward would be to set up the safety net much sooner and work on exceptions.

Would this testing requirement discourage you from travel right now?

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  1. What would happen if you were departing the USA and then entering again a few days later? For example, on January 28 I’m leaving for a quick trip to Cabo. Then coming back 3 days later. Would I really need to get a COVID test before re-entering the USA? I wonder how this would work out for US citizens.

    1. We don’t have those details right now, but I suspect everyone would need to be tested, included US citizens. I wonder if it’s lawful to hold a US citizen outside of the country without test results?

      1. You couldn’t do it indefinitely, but I’m reasonably sure you could hold them somewhere for two weeks in a sort of forced quarantine.

          1. Yeah it will be interesting to see. I live in San Diego where people cross the border into Tijuana back and forth quite frequently. (Even with the supposed lockdowns). There are tons of people that go over for medical/dental work.

  2. “if this is needed to stop the spread of the more contagious variant we’ve seen from the UK, it would seem this should be put in place almost immediately. ”

    The U.K. variant is here. We have no idea to what extent because we lack the genomic surveillance program the U.K. has. While the CDC focuses on travel requirements, they are only testing 10 samples per state every two weeks. This isn’t how you address the U.K. B.1.1.7 (or South African or other) mutation.

    The solution is vaccine rollout. The administration made a positive move today in announcing they’d do what Biden had pledged, making all of the vaccine stock available instead of holding back supply for second doses. But most states have focused on limiting who is allowed to access the vaccine, in some cases threatening massive fines and loss of licenses for even allowing excess shots to be used on someone ineligible (instead forcing those shots to be thrown away). The Israeli approach of 24/7 clinics, even on the Sabbath, is a huge counterpoint to my neighboring county which received a shipment on December 23rd and then closed for the holiday weekend.

    1. Gary, I agree the variant is here in some degree, small or large. But, I also think that requiring testing by everyone would slow the spread, most likely by slowing travel in general.

      Agree that we need to be more aggressive on vaccines, but that seems like it will be measured in months, not weeks to complete.

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