While travel restrictions have been removed in many countries, the federal government still requires all international travelers to present a negative COVID-19 test within one day of travel.
At first blush, this well-intentioned policy may sound sensible insofar as we all want to reduce the spread and protect the most vulnerable amongst us.
But the current realities demonstrate that this policy has exposed its usefulness.
When this policy was enact in January 2021, the world was in a different place. Fewer than 10% of Americans were vaccinated and cases of new, more severe infections and hospitalizations and ICU stays were reaching record levels.
In retrospect, the policy never stopped the rapid global spread of COVID-19 or new variants. At best, it may have it.
Today, however, 80% of Americans have received one dose and 67% are fully vaccinated and we now have medical advancements for prevention techniques and treatments for COVID-19. Infections are less severe and the hospitalization and ICU rate have dropped dramatically.
COVID-19 has moved from being a pandemic to an endemic, meaning that the disease, while still around, is not causing significant disruption to our daily lives. Clearly, if a more dangerous variant emerges or becomes elusive to our vaccine immunity, that’s a different story and policies can be re-examined.
Americans deserve normalcy, yet 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 without a negative COVID-19 test, but not internationally?
Many countries with similar infection, vaccination and hospitalization rates, including the United Kingdom, Israel, and Canada have eliminated testing requirements for international travelers. In fact, in a rapid easing of international restrictions, Americans can now travel to over 57 other countries without either proof of a vaccine or negative test. In a smarter approach, the CDC could tailor the policy towards travel from countries with concerning rates of infection, vaccination and hospitalization rates, as needed.
And, here is a fun one: while I can’t fly back from Mexico or Canada into the United States without a negative test, the federal government does not require proof of a negative test for entry at 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. That’s an exception that many international travelers could use to skirt this policy.
Some experts have also specifically questioned the reliability of certain tests, in the early stages of the infection.
Meanwhile, many people are asymptomatic or have symptoms that have greatly resolved, but can still test positive and are stuck in another country, incurring significant additional costs of travel and other inconveniences, even if they test negative the next day.
And other travelers, exhibiting severe flu’s or pneumonia have no such restrictions and that’s the way it has always been and no one ever complained. Obviously, those who know they have COVID-19 should not fly on airplanes putting others at risk, but we are to the point of trusting others rather than arbitrary rules.
The policy does not take into consideration the inconvenience and economic costs. Print a recent letter from the US Travel Association to Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, the Association cited the fact that business travel spending was still 56% below 2019 levels and international travel spending was still down 78% compared to 2019.
At a time when COVID-19 requirements are being relaxed across the world at an accelerated rate, the Biden administration has no apparent timeline for ending the travel restrictions.
The last time the administration was ignored commonsense and relied on the CDC to dictate policy, it ended poorly and embarrassingly. In ending the Biden administration’s mask mandate on public transportation, a Florida judge found that the CDC has exceeded its authority, not sought public comment and did not adequately explain its decisions.
President Biden would be wise to adopt a more prudent approach and drop this outdated policy.
— Doug Friednash grew up in Denver and is a partner with the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber and Schreck. He is the former chief of staff for Gov. John Hickenlooper.