The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that those planning to travel internationally this season get tested for the novel coronavirus before and then again after their flights.
The new advice, released Saturday evening, comes just days after officials at the agency “strongly recommended” that people avoid traveling during the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. The United States is grappling with a dramatic spike in infections, and health officials fear that holiday travel could dramatically worsen the current situation. Total coronavirus infections in the United States have topped 12 million, and cases are approaching 200,000 in a day.
However, in an acknowledgment that some might still travel, the CDC says those who plan to fly internationally should consider getting tested one to three days before their flights and again three to five days after travel. In addition to getting tested after they’ve completed their travels, the CDC said, people should stay home for seven days — even if they test negative.
The agency however, did not address whether testing is recommended for those who are flying domestically.
While the CDC has previously encouraged people planning to fly to take steps to protect themselves and others, including washing their hands frequently, wearing masks and practicing social distancing, this is the first time the CDC has encouraged them to get tested.
“Testing before and after travel can reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19,” the agency said in the new recommendation. Travelers should take a viral test and not travel until they’ve received their results. If they test positive, they should immediately isolate, the agency said.
“Testing does not eliminate all risk, but when paired with a period of staying at home and everyday precautions like wearing masks and social distancing, it can make travel safer by reducing spread on planes, in airports, and at destinations,” the recommendation said.
The use of preflight testing is growing. More than 100 countries currently require proof of a negative coronavirus test for entry.
The International Civil Aviation Organization, the United Nations body that oversees aviation, issued new recommendations earlier this month that acknowledged the potential of preflight testing programs.
In the United States, a growing number of states, including Hawaii, Alaska and Connecticut, are allowing travelers to skip quarantine requirements with proof of a negative test. As a result, more airlines and airports are now offering travelers the option of taking a test before they board the flight. Even so, there is no common standard, so it has been left to airlines and airports to design their own testing programs and for travelers to sort out requirements for their particular destination.
Even for those who take precautions, the CDC warns that air travel during the current pandemic does pose risks.
“Air travel requires spending time in security lines and airport terminals, which can bring you in close contact with other people and frequently touched surfaces,” the agency said. “Social distancing is difficult in busy airports and on crowded flights, and sitting within 6 feet of others, sometimes for hours, may increase your risk of getting COVID-19. How you get to and from the airport, such as with public transportation and ridesharing, can also increase your chances of being exposed to the virus.”
While surveys show that fewer people are planning to travel during the Thanksgiving holiday, many are still on the move. The Transportation Security Administration said that on Friday more than a million people passed through airport security checkpoints. It’s only the second time since the pandemic began that the number has been more than 1 million.
Said Erin Sauber-Schatz, head of the CDC’s Community Intervention and Critical Population Task Force during a briefing held Thursday: “The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is at home with the people in your household.”