Anyone flying to the U.S. will soon need to show proof of a negative test for COVID-19, health officials announced Tuesday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requirement expands on a similar one announced late last month for passengers coming from the United Kingdom. The new order takes effect on Jan. 26, and applies to all passengers whether or not they have been vaccinated for COVID-19.
COVID is already widespread in the U.S., with more than 22 million cases reported to date, including more than 375,000 deaths. The new measures are designed to try to prevent travelers from bringing in newer forms of the virus that scientists say can spread more easily.
The CDC order applies to U.S. citizens as well as foreign travelers. The agency said it delayed the effective date until late January to give airlines and travelers time to comply.
"I believe testing is the best way to track this," said Afya Khan, an infectious disease specialist at Loretto Hospital. "You're in an enclosed area in the air for hours and hours, so it's common sense to make sure everyone on the plane is healthy."
The new restrictions require air passengers to get a COVID-19 test within three days of their flight to the U.S., and to provide written proof of the test result to the airline. Travelers can also provide documentation that they had the infection in the past and recovered. The documentation must be confirmed by the airline.
Airlines are ordered to stop passengers from boarding if they don't have proof of a negative test.
Airline industry officials said this is an encouraging development, because they have long called for mandatory COVID-19 tests for safety and passengers' peace of mind.
"We don't actually see traffic recovering to 2019 levels until 2024," said Perry Flint, International Air Transport Association.
International travel to the U.S. has already been decimated by pandemic restrictions put in place last March that banned most foreigners from Europe and other areas. Travel by foreigners to the U.S. and by Americans to international destinations in December was down 76% compared to a year earlier, according to trade group Airlines for America.
While not mandatory, it's recommended that passengers isolate for seven days once reaching their destination.
"We think it probably makes the most sense to have pre-departure testing as a way to allows them to reopen borders without having quarantine," said Flint.
The CDC order is "a reasonable approach" to reducing the risk of new variants from abroad entering the U.S., said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University's school of public health.
It's likely that the recently identified version of the virus from the United Kingdom is "probably in every state or most states. This is going to do nothing for that," Jha said. So far, 10 states have reported 72 cases of the variant.
But the new order may stop or diminish spread of other new versions of the virus, like one recently identified in South Africa.
"I can imagine other countries are going to impose (preflight testing) on us," he added.
WLS-TV contributed to this report
All arriving air travel passengers must get COVID-19 test, starting in 2 weeks, CDC says
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