US dropping international COVID-19 testing requirement for travel into America

Jun 10, 2022

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new information.

After midnight on Sunday, travelers entering the U.S. will no longer have to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test.

The testing mandate will end for passengers boarding flights after 12:01 a.m. on Sunday, June 12, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a statement the agency tweeted Saturday morning.

The CDC’s announcement comes after Assistant White House press secretary Kevin Munoz confirmed Friday that the Biden Administration would end the requirement. CNN first reported Friday morning that the announcement was imminent.

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Citing a “new phase” in the pandemic, the CDC pointed to the availability of therapeutics as well as widespread COVID-19 immunity produced by a combination of vaccinations and infections as the rationale for ending a requirement that “was needed at an earlier stage in the pandemic.”

Although the federal mask mandate for air travelers was overruled by a federal judge in late April and allowed to expire on May 3, the testing requirement had remained in place despite intense pressure from airline and travel industry groups. Critics have said that the mandate does not appear to have had any impact on limiting the spread of COVID-19 cases or new variants.

Many other countries and jurisdictions, including the European Union and Canada, have already dropped similar requirements. The United States has remained the most prominent holdout among Western nations in requiring incoming travelers to submit a test to enter, despite various calls from U.S. airlines, the U.S. Senate, the international travel industry and travelers themselves to ditch it.

“Today marks another huge step forward for the recovery of inbound air travel and the return of international travel to the United States,” U.S. Travel Association president Roger Dow said in a statement. “The Biden administration is to be commended for this action, which will welcome back visitors from around the world and accelerate the recovery of the U.S. travel industry.”

Airlines for America, the trade group representing most major U.S. airlines, issued similar sentiments.

“Lifting this policy will help encourage and restore air travel to the United States, benefiting communities across the country that rely heavily on travel and tourism to support their local economies,” president and CEO Nicholas E. Calio said. “We are eager to welcome the millions of travelers who are ready to come to the U.S. for vacation, business and reunions with loved ones.”

The CDC first implemented the predeparture testing requirement in January 2021, and its terms have changed multiple times since then. Initially, all travelers, regardless of vaccination status, were able to supply proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days before their flight departed for the U.S.

This changed in November when the government started requiring unvaccinated U.S. travelers to test within one day of departure while allowing vaccinated travelers to continue following the three-day window.

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In December, the government streamlined entry requirements by shortening the previous testing window to require all travelers, independent of vaccination status, to test within one day of departure for the U.S.

Throughout its iterations, the predeparture testing rule has applied equally to Americans and non-U.S. citizens alike, though entry by the latter group has always been restricted to those who can show they are fully vaccinated.

Despite rescinding the requirement, the CDC issued a recommendation that travelers boarding a flight to the U.S. get tested within three days of departure and not travel if they are sick.

Additional reporting by Sean Cudahy and Caroline Tanner.

Featured photo by Tang Ming Tung/Getty Images.

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