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The U.S. will not yet be joining other countries that have dropped the COVID testing requirement for travel.
The White House update comes amid mounting pressure to drop the testing requirement along with the federal airline mask mandate.
Back in January 2021, the Biden administration put in place a COVID test requirement for all travelers entering the United States, vaccinated or not. This past December, amid the Omicron-fueled surge of COVID cases, the requirement became even more stringent when people were asked to obtain a negative COVID test result within one day of departure (versus three).
International travelers might be wondering if the testing requirement will ever end, especially in the wake of news that Canada, France, the United Kingdom, and Australia have scrapped their testing rules for vaccinated travelers. Will the U.S. follow suit? The White House responded this week with a resounding “not yet.”
When asked during an April 5 press briefing if the U.S. has plans to change the international testing requirement, Jeff Zients, who serves as President Biden’s COVID-19 coordinator, answered, “No, there are no plans to change the international travel requirements at this point.”
That news may come as a disappointment to travelers—60 percent of which want the COVID-19 testing requirement for inbound international travelers to be removed, according to a new survey released by travel app TripIt from Concur. TripIt surveyed more than 700 of its U.S.-based users this month and found that 44 percent would be more likely to travel if the requirement was dropped.
The majority of respondents are also ready for masks to come off on airplanes—54 percent said they want the federal mask mandate to expire, while 30 percent hope it will be further extended (16 percent didn’t have a preference either way).
Zients did not respond as to whether there was any update on the federal mask mandate for airplanes and public transit, set to expire on April 18. Last month, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced it had extended the federal transportation mask mandate.
“During that time, CDC will work with government agencies to help inform a revised policy framework for when, and under what circumstances, masks should be required in the public transportation corridor,” TSA said in a March 10 statement—hinting at the possibility that the mask restrictions will, in fact, be eased or at least adjusted after April 18.
On March 23, the top executives at the nation’s leading airlines sent a letter to President Biden urging the administration to drop the international testing requirement and the federal transportation mask mandate.
“Much has changed since these measures were imposed and they no longer make sense in the current public health context,” read the letter, which was signed by the CEOs of Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, and United.
“The predeparture test requirement, imposed to slow the introduction of variants into the U.S., has outlived its utility and stymies the return of international travel,” the letter stated. “It is critical to recognize that the burden of enforcing both the mask and predeparture testing requirements has fallen on our employees for two years now. This is not a function they are trained to perform and subjects them to daily challenges by frustrated customers.”
While Zients’s response suggests that the international requirement remains in place for the foreseeable future, it’s worth noting that his tenure with the Biden administration is slated to end this month; he is being succeeded by Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. It remains to be seen how and whether Dr. Jha will steer travel-related health policy as he joins the White House COVID-19 task force.
For now, all international arrivals, vaccinated or not, continue to need a negative COVID result (via PCR, antigen, or approved home or self tests) no more than one calendar day before flying to the United States. All foreign nationals entering the United States must also be vaccinated.
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