The Biden administration is cracking down on international travel restrictions to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Beginning Jan. 26, travelers entering the United States must test negative for COVID-19 before boarding their flight, according to an executive order signed by President Joe Biden. The new guidelines align with recommendations by the CDC.
“Airlines must confirm that there is a negative test result for all passengers before they get on board and land in the U.S.,” explained Sabrina LoPiccolo, a spokesperson for San Diego International Airport. According to the CDC, tests must be taken within 72 hours, prior, to travelers’ flights.
“I have no problem coming with a negative COVID test if I chose to travel internationally. The only thing that scares me is if the tests aren’t 100 percent accurate,” said Sheri McKernan, who said she was traveling from Portland, OR.
“This new requirement actually does have some flaws,” said Eyal Oren, Ph.D., an epidemiologist and the Interim Director for the School of Public Health at San Diego State University. “For one, if you test negative you could still, from the time you test, still acquire the virus, so it’s very important even in that time window to quarantine yourself…The other issue that I worry about is that, at least for the U.S. there is an allowance for two types of general tests; one are the PCR tests that takes two or three days to come back, the other are the rapid antigen tests, and those are about 20% less effective than the PCR lab tests, so that’s a potential concern in the sense that you can get some false assurance thinking your negative when in fact you’d test positive with the PCR test that would pick up a lower viral load”
Other countries have been requiring travelers to provide negative test results before entry. Oren said it has proved to be effective.
“There have been some data coming out that’s showing that testing people three days out via the PCR testing, not the less effective rapid testing, is about 75 percent effective in keeping infected people off the plane in the first place,” said Oren.
The president is also expected to reinstate broader restrictions that were in effect much of the past year but rescinded by then-President Donald Trump days before his term ended. Those limits would affect non-U.S. citizens traveling from the United Kingdom, Ireland and much of Europe under what is known as the Schengen countries who share a common visa process. Travelers from Brazil would also be affected.