As the U.S. is looking for ways to help people and businesses move on during the pandemic, the CDC has put forward a new requirement starting Tuesday, January 26th. The new rule will require people who want to fly back to the U.S. to provide a negative Covid-19 test before boarding their plane.
The policy reads: “If you plan to travel internationally, you will need to get tested no more than 3 days before you travel by air into the United States (US) and show your negative result to the airline before you board your flight, or be prepared to show documentation of recovery.”
The policy is meant to be enforced by the airlines themselves. Every airline that flies to the U.S. is instructed to refuse boarding to any customer with a positive Covid-19 test or without a Covid-19 test performed during the designated 3-day period.
The CDC acknowledges that this policy will create inconveniences for both airlines and passengers but reminds people that it will also save lives by limiting the spread of the disease. As the vaccination efforts are projected to take anywhere between several months and several years, stopping the virus through other methods can save hundreds of thousands of lives in the meantime. The U.S. is far from the first or only country to enact such travel restrictions and this has been proven as a very effective way to protect people in countries like New Zealand and Vietnam.
What’s the experts’ view on this?
Most medical professionals around the country seem to rejoice with this new policy. Everyone from lab technicians to nurses and doctors such as David Cutler, a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica agree that such a restriction was long overdue.
“Recently increased ability of COVID to pass from person to person is making air travel and all activities more risky for contracting this disease,” says Cutler.
The director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) Dr. Anthony Fauci also lauded the decision and emphasized that it’s especially crucial for longer flights. Dr. Fauci said in a recent APAP|NYC+ 2021 Conference interview that HEPA filters can help shorter flights be relatively safe but long international flights are still a huge breeding ground for the disease. And that’s without counting the problem that is letting new disease-carriers into the country.
“It is impossible to say how safe airline travel might be,” agreed Cutler. “It is important to recognize that anyone around you could transmit COVID to you. And you could pass it on to others.”
To help international travelers remain safe, experts have also shared several important tips:
1. Don’t fly if you have symptoms.
Monitor your symptoms and postpone your flight if you’re exhibiting any of the most common symptoms such as fever, coughing, chest pain, gastrointestinal problems, nausea and vomiting, smell and taste loss, and others.
Experts insist that being mindful of such symptoms is crucial even if you’ve got a recent negative antigen Covid-19 test as these tests are not as reliable as PCR tests.
“To a certain degree, you’re sacrificing accuracy with speed. By their very nature, the antigen style tests aren’t as sensitive because they require a larger amount of virus present to be positive,” reads a breakdown of the different tests on the website of MD Anderson Center at the University of Texas. “Someone with a positive test by this style of test should be treated as infected with COVID-19, but a negative test is less reliable and may need to be confirmed.”
2. Be careful with big crowds before and during your flight.
A negative Covid-19 test 3 days before your flight doesn’t mean that you can’t catch the disease. Flying involves a lot of crowded situations before and during the flight so it’s crucial to stay vigilant of social distancing and always wear a mask.
“The risk of air travel also includes the risks of transport to the airport,” says Cutler. “It is impossible to measure the risk you may be exposed to in these crowded, uncontrolled environments. That is why travel causes transmission of COVID and why one of the first steps in controlling the pandemic was limiting travel in those countries which effectively reduced the number of cases and deaths.”
3. Be extra careful in the airport bathroom.
These facilities often have subpar ventilation and are chock-full of pathogens, including but not limited to Covid-19. Wearing a mask and limiting your contact with bathroom surfaces is as vital as proper disinfection of your hands.
4. Wear protective gear.
You should wear both a medical-grade mask and a face shield in the airport and on the airplane. Plastic face shields aren’t nearly as useful as just a standard cloth mask. However, when you’re in a crowded airport or airplane every little bit helps.
“The ventilation systems on commercial airliners contain HEPA air filters which effectively remove nearly any viral particles,” Cutler explains.
“Several small studies have confirmed that the majority of the risk while flying comes from the people immediately around you. That risk can be minimized by wearing an N95 mask and face shield. You should also turn your overhead air blower on high to push as much clean air at you as possible,” Cutler recommends.
While all this is definitely inconvenient, it’s important to remember that these tips and policies don’t just protect us and those around us – they also help bring the pandemic to a quicker end.