COVID-19 tests to be required for international air travelers to U.S.

Dr. Stefen Ammon, medical director for Dispatch Health, talks Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 15, 2020, in Atlanta about the COVID-19 testing they will be doing before travelers board Delta Air Lines flights to Amsterdam or Rome. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Dr. Stefen Ammon, medical director for Dispatch Health, talks Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 15, 2020, in Atlanta about the COVID-19 testing they will be doing before travelers board Delta Air Lines flights to Amsterdam or Rome. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

CDC rule to take effect later this month

All international travelers flying to the United States will soon be required to get tested for COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Tuesday.

While other countries around the world have put in similar requirements, the U.S. has not previously required such tests for travelers entering the country. CDC Director Robert Redfield signed Tuesday an order that will take effect Jan. 26, 2021.

A test for the virus with negative results taken within three days of a flight will be required before departure to the U.S., with a paper or electronic copy of the lab test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 provided to the airline. Those without such documents will be denied boarding by the airline.

The CDC said the testing or recovery documentation will be required regardless of whether travelers have been vaccinated.

The CDC is also recommending travelers get tested again three to five days after arriving in the U.S. and that international travelers stay home seven days after their flights. But there is no quarantine requirement.

“With the US already in surge status, the testing requirement for air passengers will help slow the spread of the virus as we work to vaccinate the American public,” the CDC said in a press release.

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines said it will allow certain customers to reschedule their international flights to begin before the new requirements take effect Jan. 26 without paying a change fee or higher fare. The waiver of the fare difference — on top of a change fee waiver that was already in place — applies to customers who purchased flights by Jan. 12 and are scheduled to travel internationally to the U.S. through Feb. 9.

Airline lobbying group Airlines for America last week supported a proposal for coronavirus-testing requirements for international travelers to the United States. Delta Air Lines last month launched COVID-testing trials for flights to Amsterdam and Rome, with the aim of helping international travelers avoid other countries’ quarantine requirements.

“Testing does not eliminate all risk,” said the CDC’s Redfield in a written statement, “but when combined with a period of staying at home and everyday precautions like wearing masks and social distancing, it can make travel safer, healthier, and more responsible by reducing spread on planes, in airports, and at destinations.”

The Association of Flight Attendants union said the new testing requirement for international travelers to the U.S. “is good news for the safety and health of our passengers and crew,” but added that testing “is only as accurate as that moment in time,” which is why other measures including masks and cleaning procedures are important.

“Almost a year in, we still do not have basic federal safety requirements such as a mask mandate,” flight attendants union spokeswoman Taylor Garland said in a written statement. “We’re eager to get to work with the Biden administration to protect aviation workers and passengers.”

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