Should the US lift its inbound Covid testing rule? 5 health experts are added. – Natural Self Esteem

One of the biggest logistical issues for international travelers — the requirement to test negative for the coronavirus within one day of entering the United States — appears to remain in place.

“There are no plans at this time to change international travel requirements,” outgoing White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients said at a briefing last week. The White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had no updates when contacted by the Washington Post on Monday.

But travelers and industry groups are keen to shake the rule if other countries lift theirs, or at least find out how long it will be enforced. During a recent Washington Post live chat about travel, more than 20 questions were asked about testing requirements. The rule applies to all air travelers entering the United States, including citizens, residents and those who are vaccinated.

Travel and business groups on Friday sent a letter to the new coronavirus White House czar, Ashish Jha, urging the government, as it has been doing for months, to drop the pre-departure testing rule for international flights into the country to let.

“Pre-departure testing is no longer an effective measure to protect the United States from COVID-19,” the letter from the US Travel Association, Airlines for America, the American Hotel and Lodging Association and the US Chamber of Commerce said. “While this requirement offers little health benefit, it discourages travel because of the additional costs and fear of being stranded abroad it imposes.”

The groups also called for dropping the federal mask mandate for transportation; The authorities have extended it until at least April 18. Meanwhile, data tracked by the Washington Post shows cases in the US are picking up again after falling sharply following the Omicron surge.

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Visitors who are not US citizens or immigrants must be fully vaccinated to enter the country. Air travelers who have tested positive for the coronavirus in the past 90 days are not required to provide a negative test if they have documentation of recovery from the virus.

Here’s what five health experts say about whether the testing rule is still needed.

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“It’s unclear to me when” the testing rule might be relaxed

Lin Chen, director of the Mount Auburn Travel Medicine Center and associate professor at Harvard Medical School, acknowledged in an email that testing requirements can make travel difficult and confusing when they differ from country to country.

However, she said it is “reassuring” for international travelers to know that other people on the flight have tested negative, reducing the likelihood of exposure for their fellow passengers.

“Capturing people who test positive/postponing their travel could reduce the likelihood of Covid being reintroduced (or a new variant introduced) to low incidence areas,” she wrote.

Chen, immediate past president of the International Society of Travel Medicine, provided a checklist of factors she said would indicate it’s time to ditch the test rule.

“If every traveler can be diligent about self-testing/self-monitoring, and Covid rates are steadily falling around the world and no new variant emerges that threatens stability, then relaxing testing requirements for entry into the US would be great,” she wrote. “It’s unclear to me when – CDC might have some parameters.”

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“Now is the time to continue these measures”

As CEO of testing company eMed, Patrice Harris is adamant that testing, along with mitigation measures such as vaccinations and masks, will allow people to continue to gather and travel. She said she has emphasized the importance of testing since the pandemic began, when she was president of the American Medical Association.

While hospitalizations in the United States are low, she said, some regions are seeing increases in case numbers — and increases in Europe could signal future increases here. Philadelphia announced it would reintroduce its indoor mask mandate in the face of an increase in cases, and some DC-area universities have brought back mask rules.

“I will say now is not the time to relax these measures,” she said. “Indeed, now is the time to continue these measures.”

She expects to reach a point where testing isn’t required for international travel to the US, but she can’t say when that will be.

She said she believes there are several data points to consider when lifting the rule, including potentially the number of cases, hospitalizations, capacity, global vaccination rates and equitable access to treatment.

“We’re looking at a brand new virus and that virus, as I’ve said on many occasions, gets a plus of 1 for doing what viruses are supposed to do,” she said.

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“I think at some point it will make sense to remove it”

Crystal Watson, a senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said the testing rule “doesn’t cover all of our bases at this time.” While it’s advisable to test before boarding a plane, domestic flights don’t require it. Other countries have dropped their testing requirements, and they don’t believe travel from other parts of the world poses a significantly higher risk than travel within the country.

“I think eventually it will make sense to remove it,” Watson said.

She said there’s no clear metric for when something like the test rule should be lifted. But given the transmission of the Omicron variant BA.2 in many parts of the world, she said, “now is probably not the time to relax that restriction.”

“Personally, I’m still in favor of masking and testing where we can to try to limit our exposure and transmission because we’re still in an active pandemic,” she said.

Nearly 10,000 people tested negative before flying. Only one was positive after landing, a study shows.

“Maybe it’s time to check it out again”

Infectious disease specialist Peter Chin-Hong, a professor in the University of California San Francisco’s Department of Infectious Diseases Health, said testing is just one of several strategies to create a safer environment. And he said it is “probably the least hanging fruit” to remove if other elements such as vaccination requirements and mask requirements are retained.

Chin-Hong said he wasn’t sure the requirement would have the desired effect, especially given that millions of untested people fly within the country, including on long-haul flights to places like Hawaii or Puerto Rico. And, he said, an industry has sprung up around fraudulent test results.

“Perhaps the biggest impact of a potential end to this rule in the US is to sever the umbilical cord of many people who made money doing fake tests to get into the country,” he said.

Chin-Hong said he thinks the rules should be updated for the time: “Maybe this is the time to review them again,” he said of the test requirements.

Testing, vaccinations and masks aside: “I think testing to make the environment safe when you have the other things in place is probably not the most important thing,” he said.

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“We have a lot of Covid here”

William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, said he had not heard “a sound public health justification for continuing this testing program.”

“We have a lot of Covid here; it’s already here, it’s in every community in the United States, what are we trying to prevent?” he said. “I’m open to an explanation, it’s just that I haven’t heard one yet. I’m still a little surprised it’s still there given what else is happening.”

Schaffner said international air travelers would feel more comfortable knowing everyone on a flight to the United States was tested. However, he questioned whether a test should be required for an airplane if it is not mandatory to go to church services indoors, attend a concert or eat in a restaurant.

“Introducing this requirement, I think, is a bit like saying to someone, ‘Don’t pour that bucket of water into your pool,'” he said.

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