CDC to Tighten COVID-19 Testing Rules for Travelers to US

Carolyn Crist

December 01, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

The CDC says it plans to tighten COVID-19 rules for travelers to the U.S. by requiring them to provide a negative test within 24 hours of departure.

The move is intended to detect and slow the spread of the new Omicron variant, which has been found in 20 countries around the world.

"CDC is working to modify the current global testing order for travel as we learn more about the Omicron variant; a revised order would shorten the timeline for required testing of all international air travelers to one day before departure to the United States," Jason McDonald, a spokesman for the CDC, told The New York Times .

"This strengthens already robust protocols in place for international travel, including requirements for foreign travelers to be fully vaccinated," he said.

A senior Biden administration official also told the newspaper that health experts are examining whether the current requirements for international travelers are strict enough. Under the current rules, fully vaccinated people can take a test up to 3 days before departure.

Officials haven't said when the new testing rule will start, the Times reported. President Joe Biden is scheduled to announce more plans on Thursday to combat the Omicron variant, though it's unclear whether the international travel requirement will be part of that.

Until new rules are in place, the CDC still recommends that all travelers get tested 3 to 5 days after arrival in the U.S., McDonald told the newspaper. Unvaccinated travelers should quarantine for 7 days after arrival, even if they test negative.

"We're constantly looking at what can we do to make that travel system even stronger," Natalie Quillian, the deputy coordinator for the White House COVID-19 response, told the Times.

"For example, right now we're assessing all of our tests to make sure they're effective in picking up this variant," she said. "If we found that a test was not effective at picking up the variant, we would remove that from the list that is accepted to enter the country."

The CDC is also considering a proposal that all travelers -- including U.S. citizens -- self-quarantine for 7 days after arrival, even if their test results are negative, according to  The Washington Post . Those who don't follow the requirement might be subject to fines and penalties.

But federal officials are debating whether that rule would be too strict or even enforceable. State and local health departments won't likely be able to require additional testing or self-quarantines once travelers arrive in the U.S., the newspaper reported, but they may be able to strongly recommend it.

Sources

The New York Times: "The CDC plans to toughen coronavirus testing for travelers to the U.S."

The Washington Post: "Stricter coronavirus resting being weighed for all travelers to U.S."

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