The U.S. mulls requiring domestic air travelers to show a negative virus test
Federal officials are considering whether to require airline passengers to have a negative coronavirus test before boarding domestic flights, according to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
Proof of a negative test result is already required for passengers boarding international flights bound for the United States, under a policy imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month.
In a program that aired on Sunday night, Mr. Buttigieg told “Axios on HBO” that “there’s an active conversation with the C.D.C. right now” about whether to require a negative test for domestic travel as well.
“What I can tell you is, it’s going to be guided by data, by science, by medicine, and by the input of the people who are actually going to have to carry this out,” he said.
Asked about the issue at a White House briefing on Monday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the C.D.C., said that providing more coronavirus testing at places like airports could help to curb the spread of the virus by people who are contagious but do not know it, because they lack obvious symptoms.
“There’s more gathering that happens in airports, and so, to the extent that we have available tests to be able to do testing, this would be yet another mitigation measure to try and decrease risk,” Dr. Walensky said.
The testing requirement for international travelers was imposed as concern grew about more contagious variants circulating in Britain, South Africa and elsewhere. A study published on Sunday suggested that the variant first found in Britain, B.1.1.7, is already spreading rapidly in the United States.
“We should be treating every case as if it’s a variant during this pandemic right now,” Dr. Walensky said at a White House briefing days after the rule took effect.
Health officials continue to warn against nonessential travel, reiterating that public health measures to stop the spread of the virus, like social distancing and masking, are more crucial than ever.
Air travel remains down dramatically compared with before the pandemic. The Transportation Security Administration screened about 855,000 passengers on Sunday, compared with more than two million on the same date in 2020 and 2019.
But airline executives, union officials and elected officials have raised concerns about requiring testing for domestic travelers, arguing that such a rule would be difficult to implement and could inflict more financial damage on the airline industry, which has been clobbered by the abrupt halt in global travel.
Speaking before the House committee on transportation and infrastructure last week, Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, warned that the move could lead to airline bankruptcies.
Some states already require an out-of-state traveler to quarantine upon arrival, but waive the rule if the individual has recently tested negative.
Hawaii, which has enforced a strict quarantine for incoming travelers, allows an exception for those who show a negative test result from an approved provider before departing for the state.
In response to the rule for international travelers, the travel industry has sought to find ways to make testing more readily available to customers, including offering tests on-site at hotels and resorts.
The United States accepts results from rapid antigen tests in addition to the more reliable polymerase chain reaction tests, or P.C.R. tests, required by other countries.
Later on Monday, an official at the Department of Transportation said Mr. Buttigieg would quarantine for 14 days after a member of his security detail tested positive for the coronavirus in the morning.
Mr. Buttigieg, who was in close contact with the agent, tested negative after being given a P.C.R. test, and has not shown symptoms, the department’s chief of staff, Laura Schiller, said.
Mr. Buttigieg has received the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine and will receive the second dose “when his quarantine is completed,” Ms. Schiller said.
In a Monday night appearance on CNN, Mr. Buttigieg said: “I think it’s a reminder, you know, as we go through our days, that this is why masks matter, this is why testing matters. You can get up, go to work, feel fine, and it turns out that you’re positive.”