CDC director says pre-departure COVID-19 testing for domestic travel may reduce transmission

Feb 9, 2021

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During a press briefing on Monday, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Rochelle Walensky said that pre-flight testing prior to domestic flights would help to stop the spread of COVID-19 across the U.S., reports Bloomberg

“The more screening that we’re doing in places where people are gathering, I think the more asymptomatic disease we will be detecting,” Walensky said.

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During the briefing, there was no confirmation as to whether the Biden administration would implement such measures. The idea of pre-flight testing for domestic flights within the U.S. first surfaced in January.

In an interview with The Points Guy last week, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg spoke of the situation regarding pre-departure COVID-19 testing for domestic travel:

“So there’s a conversation underway with the CDC on that. What I can tell you is that the guiding lights of that conversation will be a lot of engagement and dialogue and a lot of attention to evidence and data.”

He told CNN that it’s different to pre-testing for international flights, “I’d say the domestic picture is very different, but you know the CDC is always evaluating what can best be done to keep American people safe,” Buttigieg said. “I would say that the CDC is looking at all its options.”

Related: New Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to TPG: Bold action on travel is underway

In the same interview, Buttigieg explained that as it stands, the Biden administration is not considering requiring flyers to provide proof of vaccination to be able to travel.

“I think right now the focus, especially at a time when most Americans haven’t had a vaccine, haven’t had access to vaccine, is to make sure while we’re getting those vaccinations out to everybody we possibly can, that we are also maintaining those measures that we also know work, like masks,” he said.

During Monday’s press briefing, Walensky encouraged Americans to stay at home. Despite a reduction in cases, Walensky warned officials at the state and local level to refrain from relaxing restrictions.

“First and foremost, I would really encourage people to not travel,” Walensky said.

The growing fear is that a new U.K.-originating strain may become the dominant strain circulating around the U.S. by the end of March. Cases of the new strain, of which Bloomberg reported there 690 cases on Monday, are being monitored closely.

Since the reports of a testing requirement for domestic travel first surfaced in January, travel industry groups have express opposition to the move.

“Given the strong scientific evidence that the risk of Covid-19 transmission onboard an aircraft is very low, we believe that a testing requirement for domestic air travel is unwarranted,” industry group Airlines for America said in a letter to the White House. “Further, public health and economic data indicate that this policy would disproportionately prevent low-income travelers and rural Americans in small communities from travel.”

Featured image by Patrick T. Fallon/Getty Images

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