As countries including: Canada and BritainIn recent months, having lifted their Covid testing requirements for vaccinated visitors, some Americans are outraged 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 living in Texas, is so frustrated with the rule that he recently sent letters to the White House and several lawmakers, encouraging others to do the same. “I support the CDC, still wear an N95 mask in crowds and when I travel,” he said. But he no longer feels the rule provides value, largely because “the testing hasn’t allowed variants to enter the country.”
Other travelers have posted similar comments on social media, and much of the travel industry in the United States has made it clear that it is what it looks like.
But they have received little satisfaction from the Biden administration and public health officials.
On May 6, Jen Psaki, then the White House press secretary, said: said 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. In particular, about what the CDC is using to determine whether testing is still needed, an agency spokeswoman vaguely explained that it “looks at various indicators” and “evaluates all guidelines and orders based on the latest science and state of the pandemic.”
The mandatory test has not only caused logistical problems, it has fundamentally changed the experience of international travel, travelers say.
“It was always at the forefront of my mind,” said Danielle Bradbury, 42, who recently spent 12 days in Israel developing medical devices while her husband cared for their two children in Boston. “Every time I left the hotel I asked myself, ‘How much risk do I run if I can’t go home?”
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Why did testing start in the first place?
In January 2021when the CDC set first With the rule that all travelers to the US aged 2 years and older had to show a negative test or proof of recovery before boarding a flight, the United States joined a sea of countries experimenting with different ways to control the spread of the virus across borders. A State Department statement announcing the requirement made it difficult to get a test abroad, suggesting the rule was also intended to discourage Americans from international travel. At that time, less than 10 percent of Americans had been vaccinated and the number of cases was rising, reaching a record of more than… 300,000 new cases on Jan. 8.
Testing was not the first travel restriction imposed by the United States. In the winter of 2020, President Trump forbidden visitors from China, a large part of Europe† Brazil and Iran. When President Biden took office, he put the testing requirement on top of the travel bans. (Him too extended the ban to India†
In late 2021, the United States moved away from country-specific bans and doubled its testing, shortening the window from traveling within three days to one day, even for vaccinated Americans. It had now become clear that vaccinated people could also spread the disease coronavirus† (Most unvaccinated visitors from abroad were not allowed to enter the country, even with testing.)
How effective has the policy been?
It depends on how you define success, said Jeremy Goldhaber-Fiebert, a professor of health policy at Stanford University. If success reduced the number of infected people flying to the United States, he said, the testing requirement reached that.
“It certainly prevented people who tested positive from getting on planes, and it almost certainly prevented some degree of transfer on planes and at airports,” he said.
However, the exact number of infected people who were prevented from boarding the plane is not known, because nobody keeps track of whether a passenger cancels a flight due to Covid. Most of the evidence is anecdotal; many people have stories of testing positive before flying home.
If success means keeping new variants out of the country, then it has failed, he said dr. William Omricethe chair of laboratory medicine and pathology at the Mayo Clinic.
“The reality is that none of these measures has prevented the rapid global spread of any form of concern,” he said.
But if success didn’t prevent the arrival of new variants, but instead postponed their arrival so hospitals and authorities could be better prepared, 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 this is what testing does well.
“Testing can prevent the peak from being reached so quickly,” he said.
But if a variant is already widespread in a country, he found, a travel test has little effect.
Why are many countries now removing the testing requirements?
Statements from authorities include: readiness 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 ill and the number of people admitted to intensive care is limited,” the Dutch government said said in a typical statement in March, when it ended travel testing, among other Covid-related recommendations.
What is the argument for getting rid of the US demand?
The main argument is that it doesn’t do enough good to rationalize the hassle.
dr. Tom Frieden, who was the CDC director during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, was among those who made this point. “Between the super-effective vaccinations we have and Paxlovid, which is a super-effective treatment, Omicron is less lethal than flu most years, and we don’t require people to test for flu before getting on a plane,” he said. “If a more dangerous variant emerges,” he noted, “that’s a very different situation.”
Others argue that there is no point in bothering so many people for a system that is full of holes. Antigen tests – an option for travelers to the United States – are notoriously unreliable in the early stage of infection, said Anne Wyllie, a microbiologist at the Yale School of Public Health. That is why she called the requirement ‘hygiene theatre’.
The test requirement isn’t just annoying for travelers, it’s economically damaging, according to the US Travel Association, a trade group. In a recent letter against dr. Ashish K. Jha, the White House Covid Coordinator, signed by more than 260 companies, including airlines, cruise operators, casinos, tourism agencies, Disney parks and a zoo, told the group: “the economic costs associated maintaining the measure are important.”
“Given the slow economic recovery of the corporate and international travel sectors, and in light of medical advances and improved public health statistics in the US, we recommend that you immediately remove the inbound testing requirement for vaccinated air travelers,” the group wrote.
A survey commissioned by the group found that 46 percent of international travelers would be more likely to visit the United States without the requirement. a similar one questionnaire by the Points Guy, a site specializing in credit card points and miles travel, found that more than half of participating readers were more likely to travel abroad without the requirement.
What is the argument for keeping the policy?
Meegan Zickus, who runs a Facebook group for people with weakened immune systems, said testing has become more important since the mask requirement went away. Without a testing requirement, most travelers won’t bother testing or staying home even if they suspect they’re infected, she said.
“Judging by the past two years, the only way to protect others is a kind of forced ordeal,” she said, because “the moral compass points directly to itself.”
dr. Seema Yasmin, a public health physician and the director of the Stanford Health Communication Initiative, reiterated this point. “I would say it can provide a high level of reassurance when 75 percent of people are not wearing a mask and may even be coughing and sneezing loudly,” said Dr. Yasmin.
(While aircraft ventilation systems appear to significantly reduce the spread of the coronavirus, research suggests: that people sitting within a few rows still pose a risk to each other.)
“Some tests are better than none,” said Nathaniel Hafera molecular biologist at UMass Medical School.
Many countries are also using testing to boost vaccination by waiving the requirement for vaccinated people, he said Meghan Benton, a research director at the Migration Policy Institute, which tracks travel requirements. The United States encourages vaccination in its own way by banning most unvaccinated visitors from abroad.
Could a lawsuit end testing the way the mask mandate did?
With at least four lawsuits currently pending challenging the international testing requirement, some question whether it can be lifted by a judge’s decision, given that the requirement to wear a mask on airplanes and other modes of transport was in April.
Lawrence O. Gostin, professor of global health law at Georgetown Law, thinks not. The CDC may require testing from visitors entering the country from abroad because of the Public Health Service Act, which was made explicit to prevent the introduction of dangerous infectious diseases into the United States, he said.
The rule, he said, “would be extremely difficult to successfully challenge in the courts, even for the most conservative judges.”