After months of lobbying from the travel industry, the Biden Administration, following guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, announced Friday that the country is lifting COVID-19 testing requirements for air travelers entering the U.S.
Starting midnight on Sunday, travelers into the U.S. will not need to provide a negative COVID-19 test before boarding their flight. The Biden Administration is working directly with airlines to ensure a smooth transition, CNN reports. The CDC says it will reassess within 90 days of relaxing the COVID-19 testing policy with the possibility of reinstating testing requirements should the need arise, like a new variant or an explosion in infections. CNN received this statement from the CDC:
The Covid-19 pandemic has now shifted to a new phase, due to the widespread uptake of highly effective Covid-19 vaccines, the availability of effective therapeutics, and the accrual of high rates of vaccine- and infection-induced immunity at the population level in the United States. Each of these measures has contributed to lower risk of severe disease and death across the United States.
Lawmakers, airlines and some experts have been calling for a change in testing policy for months now, saying it’s out of date and out of step with science. Experts in the travel industry told CNN that while domestic flights are near pre-pandemic levels, international travel into the U.S. is still down by 14 percent. While this decision may sound very much driven by economics rather than public health, one expert had a really good point for CNN:
Testing international arrivals doesn’t make much sense to Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.
“I’ve been bemused about that for a long time because we’ve got plenty of Covid here! It’s not as though we’re trying to keep Covid out,” Schaffner told CNN in March. “It’s here already.”
Airlines became front and center in the battle to get Americans to take COVID-19 seriously very early on in the pandemic. They lost billions on canceled flights when lockdowns went into effect and required a hefty $25 billion federal bailout to keep the lights on. When flights started up again, flight attendants were turned into federal marshals trying to keep mask on rules-adverse travelers. The decision comes two months after a federal judge struck down the CDC mask mandate for air travel and public transit. Since then air travel has indeed boomed, but so have delays as airlines cut flights in part due to COVID-19 related staff shortages. Some airlines are so hard up for staff that they’re allowing unvaccinated employees to come back to work after lifting private mandates.
It looks like vaccine and testing mandates will remain in effect for cross-boarder truckers. We will update this report as we find out more.