Johannesburg-Atlanta passengers offered test to monitor for omicron

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is offering COVID-19 testing to passengers arriving in Atlanta on flights from Johannesburg, South Africa, as the agency focuses on monitoring a new coronavirus variant.

The CDC on Sunday started offering the free voluntary tests to arriving international passengers at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, with a focus on those arriving from southern African countries. Travelers boarding flights to the United States are already required to test negative for COVID-19 before boarding their flights.

The U.S. government on Monday began restricting travel from South Africa, along with seven other countries in southern Africa, because of the recently discovered omicron variant. However, the travel restrictions do not apply to U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

The CDC is partnering with XpresSpa, which has an XpresCheck COVID-19 testing location at Hartsfield-Jackson on Concourse E and at airports throughout the country, to offer the tests in the international terminal of the Atlanta airport at an XpresCheck pop-up booth outside of Customs. It is also offering free specimen collection kits that can be mailed back for testing.

“We are actively looking for the omicron variant right here in the United States,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during a briefing Tuesday. “Right now, there is no evidence of omicron in the United States. The delta variant remains the predominant circulating strain, representing 99.9% of all sequences sampled.”

Walensky said the expansion of the biosurvellance program in Atlanta and three of the nation’s busiest airports allows for increased COVID testing for specific international arrivals. She said the CDC is also working with airlines to collect passenger information that could be used for improved contact tracing and follow-up if cases are detected.

“We are actively working to scale up this collaborative post-arrival airport-based surveillance testing program to monitor for this new variant in arriving travelers,” said Martin Cetron, the CDC’s director for the division of global migration and quarantine, in a written statement.

The Georgia Department of Public Health continues to encourage the public to get vaccinated to protect against COVID-19.