Beginning on January 26, 2021, all travelers arriving into the U.S. from outside the country were required to show proof of a negative COVID test. The new policy required all air passengers, regardless of vaccination status, to get a test for current infection within the three days before their flight to the United States departed and provide written documentation of their test results or proof of having recovered from Covid-19.
That worked well for most of 2021. However when Omicron, a much more contagious variant than its predecessors, began spreading like wildfire, the policy had to change. It was too easy to be tested 3 days before your flight to the U.S. and then catch the virus in the time between being tested and going on the plane.
So, starting December 6, 2021, the requirement changed. Anyone flying into the U.S. from abroad had to have a negative COVID-19 test no more than 24 hours before their flight.
Throughout the month of January, COVID cases around the world have decreased significantly in many places. Cases in the U.S. have also started to decrease, although hospitalizations and deaths remain high. Several countries, including France, Greece, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, have announced ending their testing requirements to enter – some entirely, some only for those fullyvaccinated against COVID.
Last week, on February 1, the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) sent a letter to the White House (here’s a PDF of it). In it, they asked that vaccinated Americans returning to the U.S. from abroad be exempt from the required pre-flight testing. They said that “Removing the requirement will greatly support the recovery of travel and aviation in the United States and globally without increasing the spread of COVID-19 and its variants.”
ASTA’s letter was followed by similar letters from the U.S. Travel Association, Airlines for America, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, International Air Transport Association, Aerospace Industries Association and other groups, all asking the White House to change their policy.
There was no official response from anywhere in the federal government, however on Tuesday, the director of the CDC, Dr. Rochelle Walensky told Yahoo Finance that although the agency is optimistic COVID-19 cases will continue to decline, it will maintain current protocols due to the virus’ uncertainty.
“We came down from a very high level and our hospitalizations right now are higher than they ever were during the peak of our Delta surge,” said Walensky. “So, while we will look down the field and say ‘what does this look like?’ and ‘how can we relax some of our mitigation strategies?’ first we always need to be prepared for what may come around the corner. Second, we’re not quite ready to do so yet.”
Obviously, I’m sure some people are happy to read this, and others are (or, probably, ‘remain’) frustrated. Of course, what any of us think doesn’t really matter; they make the rules and if we want to travel internationally, we have to follow them. Assuming that our numbers continue to go down, the number of people who are vaccinated go up, and we don’t get hit with another ‘bad’ variant, I’m sure they will change the rules when they feel it’s safe to do so. Until then, it is what it is.
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