CDC just released guidelines for airlines to verify a traveler’s negative COVID-19 results

Apr 9, 2021

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday publicly released guidelines for airlines to verify negative COVID-19 test results and proof of recovery from the disease.

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The guidelines, which clarify existing CDC policies, state that travelers who present a negative COVID-19 test are subject to meeting five requirements:

  • The test must be a viral test, such as a nucleic acid amplification (NAAT) or antigen.
  • The test must be negative. 
  • The test must also include where the test was performed and the name and contact information for the lab or healthcare provider who performed the test.
  • The test must be collected three days or less before flight departure to the U.S.
  • The test must include information that identifies the person and must have the person’s name and at least one additional identifier such as date of birth, age, and passport number.

If a passenger is providing documentation stating that they’ve recovered from COVID, they are subject to meeting six requirements:

  • The test must be a viral test.
  • The test must be positive. 
  • The test must also include where the test was performed and the name and contact information for the lab or healthcare provider who performed the test.
  • The test must show a specimen collection date within the last 90 days.
  • Travelers must also have a signed letter stating the passenger is cleared for travel from a licensed healthcare provider or a public health official, signed and on official letterhead that shows the name, address, and phone number.
  • The test must include information that identifies the person and must have the person’s name and at least one additional identifier such as date of birth, age, and passport number.

It’s unclear if this document is already known to U.S. airlines and their employees. This new airline guidance comes a week after the CDC announced that fully vaccinated Americans can travel at “low-risk” to themselves

The agency said last week that fully vaccinated people could travel internationally without getting a COVID-19 test before travel unless it is required by the international destination and don’t need to self-quarantine after returning to the U.S. Travelers will only need to quarantine if required by a state or local jurisdiction.

All travelers flying to the United States — fully vaccinated travelers included — are required to get a viral test within three days before departure. Travelers flying to U.S. territories like Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and those arriving via a land border like Mexico or Canada, are exempt.

Related: 17 things you need to know about getting COVID-19 tested for US-bound international flights

Prior to the new guidelines, the CDC hadn’t offered much guidance for airlines on how to verify traveler health documentation. Questions have been raised about the possibility of travelers faking negative COVID-19 tests — and there have been several reports about a so-called black market for negative COVID-19 test results. 

Airlines must confirm the negative result (or recovery from COVID-19) for all passengers before boarding. The CDC said earlier this year that air passengers would be required to confirm that the information they present “is true in the form of an attestation.” 

The CDC also said that airlines are responsible for ensuring any translation accuracy and may not shift this responsibility to a third party.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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