Should I continue covid testing for travel? Health experts appreciate it.

The test requirement in the US has expired, but experts still suggest precautions against coronavirus

(Video: iStock / Washington Post illustration)

The United States has lifted the order requiring travelers to show a negative test result or evidence of recovery from COVID-19 before entering the country. The change took effect on Sunday.

The news was welcomed by the travel industry, which has been pushing for an end to testing rules they said discourage foreign visitors from coming into the country and kept some Americans at home.

But health experts warn of the continuing risks of the Corona virus. New cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the United States have risen over the past week, although they are still well below the peak of the omicron variant earlier this year, according to Washington Post data. Now that international travelers are not required to take a test to enter the country, should they still consider the test? We asked health experts.

Why did the US end the test requirement?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the internal testing requirement – in place since January 2021 – was necessary at the time, but that the pandemic “has now moved into a new phase.”

There is now a lower risk of serious illness and death, the agency said, citing the distribution of coronavirus vaccines, the availability of treatments, the rate of the vaccine — and the immunity the infection causes.

The CDC said it would reassess the decision within 90 days and reinstate the rule if necessary.

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Are there any US travel restrictions still in place?

Not for Americans or residents. Non-US citizens arriving by air must provide proof of vaccination to enter the country. However, according to the CDC’s website, “certain categories of non-citizens and non-immigrants are exempt from this requirement.”

What do health experts think of the change?

Experts weren’t surprised to see officials drop the rule, although some said they would like the United States to take more public health precautions.

In an ideal world, Jayne Morgan, a cardiologist and executive director of the covid-19 task force at Piedmont Healthcare, said testing would be required for all flights – domestic and international. She also likes to see thorough concealment in tight public spaces.

But since we don’t live in a perfect world, “I think lifting these international travel regulations makes sense because we’re not imposing anything else,” Morgan said.

For Brian C. Castrucci, president and CEO of De Beaumont, a public health charity, the international testing requirements were “like plugging a single hole in a filter — the water is still coming out,” he said. “If we are continuing to enact a comprehensive prevention and mitigation strategy, continuing with this requirement makes sense.”

It is “inevitable” that the test order be rescinded because many other countries have abandoned their own rules, Gigi Gronvall, a senior researcher at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said in an email. She said obtaining evidence of a negative test is “onerous and expensive” and that the United States has many infected people within its borders.

But Robert Quigley, global medical director for health and travel security company International SOS, cautioned travelers to let their guard down.

“It is important to note that while this authorization is currently lifted, the CDC is closely monitoring a rise in cases, and it could be brought back in place at any moment,” Quigley said in an email. “Therefore, it is prudent for travelers to do their part and remain tested when indicated and to avoid travel while ill.”

Should travelers continue to test?

Although the rule has ended, the CDC still recommends getting the test as close as possible to your day of travel (ideally within three days or less of your flight). If the test result is positive, do not travel.

For international flights, Quigley said all travelers should take the test as a precaution. They should also be up to date on vaccinations and be aware of the local requirements for entering and leaving their destination.

He said, “A negative PCR test with ready access to the result will only ensure smooth travel, especially if the order is returned to its place while traveling.”

Gronval said people should be tested if they are known to have been exposed or have developed symptoms.

Testing should continue to be on the table not just for yourself, but for any vulnerable people you’ll be returning home to, such as unvaccinated children, immunocompromised people or elderly family members, Castroucci said.

Quigley said travelers should also get tested for the coronavirus within three days of returning home.

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What type of test should people take?

Quigley recommended the PCR test because it tends to be more accurate and is more widely accepted. He said it is best for someone who has had or has had symptoms to get a PCR test. But at the very least, he recommended a quick home test before boarding the plane.

Gronvale said the rapid home tests are easy to run during the flight, as they were doing during domestic travel on Monday.

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What should you do if you test positive abroad?

Quigley said international travelers who test positive during their trip should follow local rules, which vary by country. They should also find a local health care provider who can assess when it is no longer contagious.

I asked: Where can I find a coronavirus test in a foreign country?

Amanda Kubokovic, senior managing analyst at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said in an email that the CDC recommends that people delay travel and isolate by 10 days regardless of their vaccination status if they test positive in another country.

She said anyone who tests positive on an overseas trip should review the state’s policies regarding health care and isolation, because not all hotels can be used as isolation facilities.

Are there other ways travelers can protect themselves?

Morgan said it’s important to keep pace with coronavirus mitigation efforts not only to avoid getting sick, but also to limit the possibility of the virus developing further.

“The fact remains that the more infections we have, the greater the risk we may be exposed to from a future variant that could be even more terrifying,” she said.

It recommended that travelers continue to wear a mask indoors, particularly if they live in or visit a place highlighted in red or orange on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s coronavirus maps.

Castrocci also recommended travelers continue to “do everything they can to mitigate personal risks, which includes testing,” he said, as well as strategies such as wearing masks and choosing to eat outdoors. “Just because the government has chosen not to prioritize virus prevention doesn’t mean we need to stop.”

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