As countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom, have in recent months lifted the requirement for their covid test for vaccinated visitors, some Americans are angry that they still have to show a negative test to board a return flight to the United States.
Jason Miller, a 37-year-old software engineer living in Texas, is so frustrated with the rules that he recently wrote letters to the White House and several lawmakers urging others to do the same. “I support CDC, still wearing an N95 mask when in crowds and when I travel,” he said. But he no longer thinks that the rule pays the price, in large part because “the test did not stop the difference from entering the country.”
Other travelers have posted similar comments on social media, and a good portion of the U.S. travel industry has made it clear that it feels the same way.
However, they have received little satisfaction from the Biden administration and public health officials.
On May 6, Jane Sackie, then White House press secretary, said she was “not aware of a deadline” for ending the testing requirement and that the administration would make decisions based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations. Specifically, what the CDC is using to determine whether testing is still necessary, a company spokesman vaguely explained that it is “looking at various indicators” and “evaluating all guidelines and orders based on the latest science and conditions. Worldwide.”
Compulsory testing has not only created logistical hassle, it has fundamentally changed the experience of traveling internationally, travelers say.
“It was always on my mind,” said Daniel Bradbury, 42, who recently spent 12 days in Israel working on a medical device while her husband was caring for their two children in Boston. “Every time I left the hotel, I asked myself, ‘How much risk do I take to get home?’
Why did the test start in the first place?
In January 2021, when the CDC introduced the first rule that all U.S. travelers 2 years of age or older must show a negative test or proof of recovery before boarding a flight, the United States joins the sea of a country that tests various ways to slow down. . The virus has spread across the border. A State Department statement announcing the requirement made it difficult to get a test abroad, suggesting that the rule also discouraged Americans from traveling internationally. Less than 10 percent of Americans were vaccinated at the time, and the number of cases continues to rise, hitting a record of more than 300,000 new cases on Jan. 8.
It was not the first travel restriction test to be deployed in the United States. In the winter of 2020, President Trump banned visitors from China, mostly Europe, Brazil and Iran. When President Biden took office, he set the level of testing requirements above the travel ban. (He also extended the ban to India.)
Towards the end of 2021, the United States moved away from country-specific sanctions and doubled the test, shortening the window to one day within three days of travel, even for vaccinated Americans. By then it had become clear that people who had been vaccinated could also spread the coronavirus. (Most non-vaccinated visitors from abroad were barred from entering the country, even after being tested.)
How effective has the policy been?
Jeremy Goldber-Fibert, a professor of health policy at Stanford University, says success depends on how you define it. If the success reduces the number of infected people flying to the United States, he said, the need for testing has achieved that.
“This, of course, prevented people with positive testing from getting on the plane and it almost certainly prevented some amount of infection on the plane and at the airport,” he said.
The exact number of infected people barred from boarding the plane is unknown, however, because no one keeps track of whether a passenger has canceled a flight due to covid. Most of the evidence is anecdotal; Many people have stories about positive testing before flying home.
If success means keeping new forms out of the country, it has failed, says Dr. William Omris, chair of lab medicine and pathology at the Mayo Clinic.
“The reality is that none of these measures have prevented the rapid global spread of any kind of concern,” he said.
But if success does not prevent the arrival of new forms, but rather delays their arrival so that hospitals and authorities can be more prepared, it can work. Mark Jeet, a professor of vaccine epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who has studied the efficacy of travel requirements, says this is what makes the test better.
“Tests can prevent you from reaching the peak so quickly,” he said.
Yet, once a variant has already spread widely in a country, he finds, a travel test has little effect.
Why are so many countries now getting rid of testing requirements?
Authorities’ explanations include preparations for a new phase of the epidemic, high vaccination rates, and a determination that new variants are manageable.
“The current form is making people less ill and the number of people admitted to intensive care is limited,” the Dutch government said in a general statement in March, as it has completed the travel test, among other covid-related recommendations.
What is the rationale for getting rid of the US needs?
The primary argument is that it is not doing well enough to justify the problem.
Dr. Tom Frieden, who was the CDC director at the time of the 2014 Ebola outbreak, was among those who created the issue. “We have the highly effective vaccine and Paxlovid, which is a very effective treatment. Omicron is less deadly than most years’ flu and people don’t need to be tested for the flu before we get on the plane,” he said. “If a more dangerous variant emerges,” he noted, “it’s a very different situation.”
Others argue that the inconvenience of so many people for a system that is full of holes makes no sense. Antigen testing – an alternative for travelers to the United States – is notoriously incredible in the early stages of infection, says Ann Wiley, a microbiologist at the Yale School of Public Health. This is why he calls necessity “healthy theater.”
According to the US Travel Association, a trade group, the need for testing is not only annoying for travelers, it is also economically detrimental. Signed by more than 260 businesses, including airlines, cruise operators, casinos, tourism boards, Disney parks and a zoo, the White House co-ordinator, Dr. Ashis K. In a recent letter to Zhao, the group said “it is important to maintain relevant economic spending measures.”
“In light of the slow economic recovery in the business and international travel sector, and in light of medical advances and improved public health metrics in the United States, we urge you to immediately remove the need for inward testing for vaccinated air travelers,” the group wrote.
A study conducted by the group found that 46 percent of international travelers would be more likely to travel to the United States without need. A similar survey by Points Guy, a site that specializes in credit card points and mile travel, found that more than half of its participating readers were more likely to travel abroad without need.
What is the rationale for maintaining the policy?
Megan Zicas, who runs a Facebook group for people with weakened immune systems, says testing has become more important since the need for masks has gone away. Without the need for testing, most travelers would not be bothered to take the test or stay at home even if they suspect it is infected, he said.
“Judging by the last two years, the only way to protect others is to have some kind of applied test,” he said, because “the moral compass points directly at itself.”
Dr. Seema Yasmin, a public health practitioner and director of the Stanford Health Communication Initiative, echoed this sentiment. “I would say it can give a high level of reassurance when 75 percent of people don’t wear a mask and even cough and sneeze loudly,” said Dr. Yasmin.
(Although the aircraft’s ventilation system significantly reduces the spread of coronavirus, studies have shown that people sitting in rows still pose a risk to each other.)
“Some experiments are no better than others,” said Nathaniel Huffer, a molecular biologist at UMass Medical School.
Meghan Benton, a research director at the Migration Policy Institute that tracks travel requirements, says many countries use tests to encourage vaccinations by waiving the needs of vaccinated people. The United States encourages immunization in its own way, barring the entry of most unwanted visitors from abroad.
How can a lawsuit end up being examined by Mask Mandate?
Given that there are currently at least four pending cases challenging the need for an international trial, some believe it could be overturned by a judge’s decision, as there was a need to wear a mask on airplanes and other modes of transport in April.
Lawrence and Gostin, professors of world health law at Georgetown, don’t think so. He said the CDC may require testing from visitors entering the country from abroad because of the Public Health Services Act, which is clearly designed to prevent the spread of dangerous infectious diseases in the United States.
He said the rule would be extremely difficult to successfully challenge in court, even for the most conservative judges.