Although travel restrictions have been lifted in many countries, the federal government still requires all international travelers to present a negative COVID-19 test within a day of travel.
On the face of it, this well-intentioned policy may seem sensible since we all want to reduce the spread and protect the most vulnerable among us.
But current realities show that this policy has lost its usefulness.
When this policy was enacted in January 2021, the world was in a different place. Fewer than 10% of Americans were vaccinated, and cases of more serious new infections, hospitalizations and intensive care stays were at record highs.
In retrospect, politics never stopped the rapid global spread of COVID-19 or new variants. At best, it may have slowed him down.
Today, however, 80% of Americans have received a dose and 67% are fully vaccinated and we now have medical advances for prevention techniques and treatments for COVID-19. Infections are less severe and the rate of hospitalization and intensive care has dropped dramatically.
COVID-19 has gone from a pandemic to an endemic, which means that the disease, although still present, does not significantly disrupt our daily lives. Obviously, if a more dangerous variant emerges or becomes elusive to our vaccine immunity, that’s another story and policies can be reconsidered.
Americans deserve normalcy, but our travel policies are contradictory and defy common sense.
If testing is so important, why does the CDC have different policies in place for those who test positive at home and abroad? How do they justify a travel policy that allows people to travel domestically without testing negative for COVID-19, but not abroad?
Many countries with similar infection, vaccination and hospitalization rates, including the UK, Israel and Canada, have eliminated testing requirements for international travelers. In fact, in a rapid easing of international restrictions, Americans can now travel to more than 57 other countries without proof of a vaccine or a negative test. In a smarter approach, the CDC could adapt the policy to travel from countries with concerning infection, vaccination and hospitalization rates, as needed.
And, here’s a fun one: while I can’t return from Mexico or Canada to the United States without a negative test, the federal government does not require proof of a negative test to enter our land border ports with Canada or Mexico. This allows, among other things, international travelers who have tested positive to enter the United States by land. This is an exception that many international travelers could use to circumvent this policy.
Some experts have also questioned the reliability of some tests, especially in the early stages of infection.
Meanwhile, many people are asymptomatic or have symptoms that have largely resolved but may still test positive and are stuck in another country, incurring significant additional travel costs and other inconveniences, even if they tested negative the next day.
And other travellers, with severe flu or pneumonia, don’t have such restrictions and that’s how it always was and no one ever complained. Obviously, those who know they have COVID-19 should not fly in planes that put others at risk, but we are at the point of trusting others rather than imposing arbitrary rules.
The policy does not take into account the inconveniences and economic costs. In a recent letter from the US Travel Association to Dr. Ashish Jha, White House coronavirus response coordinator, the Association cited the fact that business travel spending was still 56% below levels of 2019 and international travel spending was still down 78% from 2019. .
At a time when COVID-19 requirements are being eased across the world at an accelerating pace, the Biden administration has no apparent timeline for ending travel restrictions.
The last time the administration ignored common sense and relied on the CDC to dictate policy, it ended badly and embarrassingly. In ending the Biden administration’s mask mandate on public transportation, a Florida judge found the CDC overstepped its authority, failed to seek public comment and failed to adequately explain its decisions.
President Biden would be wise to take a more cautious approach and abandon this outdated policy.
— Doug Friednash grew up in Denver and is a partner at the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber and Schreck. He is the former chief of staff for Governor John Hickenlooper.