On the same day that mandatory COVID-19 testing for international arrivals into the United States went into effect, a CDC official told reporters that a similar rule is being considered for domestic travel.
“We’re actively looking at it,” Dr. Marty Cetron, director for the CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, told reporters during a January 26 media call when asked whether new domestic travel testing requirements are a possibility. “We realize that there’s been a dramatic evolution and increase in both testing platforms and testing capacity. I think this is a really important part of our toolkit to combat this pandemic.”
A couple weeks later, in early February, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said during an interview on Axios on HBO that “there’s an active conversation with the CDC right now” regarding the U.S. possibly requiring a negative COVID test for domestic flights.
Following that, the CEOs of the major U.S. airlines, including American, United, Southwest, Alaska, and JetBlue, met with White House officials to plead their case against requiring coronavirus tests for domestic flights, saying it would undermine the already battered airline industry, the Associated Press reported.
Biden administration and CDC say no domestic testing for now
The Biden administration and the CDC put the airlines’ concerns to bed—at least for now.
In a February 12 press briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that “reports that there is an intention to put in place new requirements, such as testing, are not accurate”—in response to a question about whether the federal government had reached a conclusion as to whether all air passengers should be tested for COVID prior to flying.
That same day, the CDC told CNN that “at this time, CDC is not recommending required point of departure testing for domestic travel.”
The testing issue for domestic flights emerged after a January 21 presidential proclamation signed by President Joe Biden and a CDC order that went into effect on January 26 made it obligatory for all international passengers flying into the United States who are age two and older—including returning U.S. citizens—to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test prior to boarding.
That presidential proclamation also stated that the government would be looking into “additional public health measures for domestic travel.”
The increased vigilance with regard to international and domestic travel—in the same proclamation Biden also mandated mask-wearing for travel in the U.S.—comes as coronavirus variants that have been identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa, Brazil, and elsewhere have been found to be potentially more contagious than previous variants. Cetron noted that “the emergence of the new variants has highlighted a new challenge in this race that we have with infection versus vaccination.”
As the coronavirus vaccine rollout continues throughout the United States, President Biden has vowed to order enough doses and administer them at a rate that would “fully vaccinate 300 [million] Americans by the end of the summer, beginning of the fall,” the president said during a January 26 briefing. Thus, it will still be several months before the majority of Americans are fully vaccinated.
Until then, Cetron said, “As these variants increase, the risks of international travel really are highlighted by the urgency that President Biden and this administration have taken to combat the virus and use all measures that we have at our disposal.”
This story was originally published on January 27, 2021, and was updated on February 18, 2021, to include current information.