It expands an effort already underway for flights from the UK and places a significant policing responsibility on the airline industry itself. Airlines will be responsible for confirming negative results, and will have to deny boarding to passengers if they do not meet the criteria.
The announcement responds in part to a request from the U.S. airline industry, which has pushed for pre-flight testing to be an alternative to quarantines or other restrictions on who can enter the country. It is not known whether the government will immediately consider removing these other restrictions.
Testing has been the travel industry’s best hope for revitalizing international air travel, and major U.S. airlines are already offering pre-flight testing to help passengers comply with rules at their destinations. And this week, the U.S. airline industry trade group Airlines for America approved the CDC’s proposal to require a negative Covid test for travelers seeking entry into the United States.
The new requirement may help passengers feel better when they fly, but it’s not a silver bullet to prevent infections. A study published last week in the CDC’s Journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases warned that testing passengers for Covid-19 before flying may not completely prevent the virus from spreading in flight.
The study came to its conclusions in part thanks to the type of forced quarantine program that the travel industry is fighting to avoid. Researchers studied seven cases of Covid detected as part of New Zealand’s aggressive 14-day isolation and quarantine program.
Long-haul flights are particularly vulnerable to potential transmission of the virus in the air as overcrowding is more difficult to avoid and masks are difficult to keep on the entire trip, according to Jeff Engel, senior advisor for Covid-19 at the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists.
“Airlines always report that they circulate their air through filters that filter out 99.9% of germs, which is true,” Engel said. “But the transmission is by direct person-to-person propagation without the air even passing through the circulation system.”
In addition, a test is only a snapshot in time. Justin Lessler, associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, warned that if airlines only require a negative test done days before passengers travel, individuals could become contagious between testing. and moving to step. on their plane.
Testing passengers at the airport using antigen tests that provide point-of-care results “would likely significantly reduce” the risk of transmission, but Lessler warns that “there will always be a residual risk.”
“It would be much more effective than a PCR test two or three days before someone got on the plane,” Lessler said. “I think it would have a positive impact on public health.”
In all cases, the airport industry opposed the testing at airports. The Airports Council International warned last year that creating long lines for screening at airports would run counter to social distancing and create security risks.
Airlines have also expressed concerns about the availability of tests to meet the requirements of a requirement. In a recent letter to the Trump administration, the U.S. Airlines Trade Group asked the government to consider making rapid tests available to help airlines meet the looming requirement.
The industry had also requested a two-week implementation schedule, to train staff and alert customers.
The Department of Homeland Security, which is said to be responsible for lifting existing restrictions on non-nationals entering the United States from Europe, the United Kingdom, Brazil and elsewhere, did not respond to a request for comments.
Tanya Snyder contributed to this report.