A few weeks ago the United States overhauled its entry and testing requirements for travelers. Then last week the United States added a new Africa travel ban. Now there’s a new testing restriction for international travelers, which kicks in as of today, so I wanted to recap it. Personally I view this as being silly, even though it shouldn’t be a huge deal.
New COVID-19 testing rules for international travel
The Biden administration has outlined new policies to “protect Americans against the delta and omicron variants as we battle COVID-19 this winter.” In addition to extending the federal transportation mask mandate, there are also new coronavirus testing rules around international travel.
As of today (Monday, December 6, 2021), the United States is requiring all international travelers bound for the United States by air to get tested within one day of travel:
- This applies regardless of nationality or vaccination status
- The test just needs to take place within one calendar day of when your travel to the United States starts; the timing isn’t based on when you arrive in the United States, and it’s based on the calendar day rather than having to be within 24 hours
- For context, previously vaccinated travelers needed to get tested within three days of travel, while unvaccinated travelers needed to get tested within one day of travel
- There’s no change to the type of tests that will be accepted, so rapid antigen tests continue to qualify
Retesting won’t be required for international travel (for now)
Prior to this announcement, there had been reports that there were discussions taking place about the possibility of requiring travelers to get tested three to five days after arriving in the United States. This won’t be introduced for now, though who knows if it may be introduced in the future (it seems unlikely to me).
Even if this were to eventually be added, one has to wonder how this would be enforced. I mean, the federal government can’t even figure out a way to get digital vaccine credentials, let alone manage something like this, especially with states having such differing policies on the Biden administration’s approach to handling the pandemic.
Could the US add quarantine for international travel?
It was initially reported that there were discussions happening about a potential seven day quarantine for those arriving in the United States, regardless of vaccination status. The good news is that a White House official has stated that this isn’t under consideration at the moment.
That’s not too surprising, since the legality of that for Americans is questionable to begin with, not to mention this would have almost certainly been unenforceable.
My take on the new testing requirement
Here are a few thoughts, as a non-scientist and non-epidemiologist:
- I don’t view this policy change as a huge deal, in the sense that it wouldn’t impact whether or not I choose to travel internationally; rapid antigen testing is fast and easy enough to get, and you can even bring a test kit with you when you travel
- Coronavirus testing for international travel is shady at best and a money making scam at worst, with no consistent standards; for four of the past five tests I’ve taken for international travel, my ID wasn’t even checked, so anyone could have taken the test on my behalf (and I had a friend who was told he was negative the second the swab was pulled out of his nose — seems legit!)
- This just seems like a very strange thing to focus on if the goal is to control coronavirus and convince people to get vaccinated, especially since it’s not like the omicron variant isn’t already in the United States
I think part of the issue with dialogue around coronavirus restrictions is that it’s so politically polarizing. People feel the need to attack or defend a policy based on who they voted for. It’s not really a secret who I voted for, but that won’t stop me from expressing my disappointment about the lack of “following the science” with the Biden administration’s travel policies:
- Biden kept the silly EU travel bans in place at a time when the region had very low case numbers, while places with significantly higher case numbers had no restrictions for travel to the United States; then Biden finally lifted that travel restriction at a time when cases in Europe were surging
- We still have a ridiculously high death count from coronavirus in the United States, so if the goal is to get as many people vaccinated as possible, maybe it’s time to start creating more policies that encourage vaccination, as we’ve seen in other countries; this new restriction only impacts vaccinated people, since unvaccinated people already had to get tested with this timeline
- Unfortunately this is all par for the course for how politics works; it’s always easier to make it seem like something is being done so that you’re not being blamed if case numbers do go up, because politicians don’t want to be accused of not having done enough
The Biden administration has introduced a tighter testing requirement for international travel as of today. International travelers now need to get tested within one day of travel, rather than within three days of travel, regardless of vaccination status. Fortunately that’s the only new restriction for now — we won’t see a retesting requirement after arriving in the United States, and we won’t see any sort of a quarantine requirement.
I don’t think this new requirement is a huge deal, since rapid antigen testing is easy, and you can even bring your own test kit with you when traveling abroad. That being said, this just seems like a strange thing to focus on, and it exclusively penalizes vaccinated people (since unvaccinated people already had to get tested within one day of travel). The lack of standards with international coronavirus testing for travel is a complete joke.
What do you make of this new testing requirement from the United States?