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Air Travelers To U.S. Must Test Negative For COVID-19 Before Boarding

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Important news for people intending to fly to the U.S. - the CDC has announced that all travelers flying in from other countries will have to test negative for the coronavirus before they arrive. The policy goes into effect on January 26. NPR's Pien Huang reports.

PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: It can be a spit test, a swab test, a 15-minute rapid antigen test. The key thing is that it's a documented negative test result for the coronavirus before you get on the plane.

Dr. Martin Cetron is CDC's director of Global Migration and Quarantine.

MARTIN CETRON: So there is an obligation on the passengers to have a test within three days - a negative test result that they can show to the airline when they check in - to fill out an attestation that they had this test and for the airlines to only issue a boarding pass for folks coming into the United States that have had a documented negative test.

HUANG: Passengers can also show proof that they've recently had the virus and recovered. Airlines are responsible for checking documentation and must refuse to board any passengers without it. The CDC says the new policy is in response to new variants that appear to be more contagious emerging around the world.

Dr. Claudia Hoyen is an infectious disease specialist at University Hospitals in Cleveland.

CLAUDIA HOYEN: They're really trying to protect us if there should be other variants that may pop up in other areas of the world that could potentially be not only more contagious, but cause more severe disease.

HUANG: That hasn't happened yet as far as public health experts know, but it's something they're watching for. Other countries are even more restrictive, says Dr. Lin Chen, president of the International Society of Travel Medicine. In Hong Kong, for instance, all arriving passengers are bussed to a convention center.

LIN CHEN: And then they get tested there, and then they wait a few hours until the results are known. If they're positive, they go into isolation. If they're negative, they're allowed to go through their quarantine.

HUANG: By contrast, the CDC is only suggesting that people self-quarantine for seven days and get retested a few days after arrival. The U.S. policy won't catch every infection, but Cetron from the CDC says it could make a difference in managing the caseload.

CETRON: Right now, we're in a critical race between infection and vaccination. And the bridge to succeeding in the time it takes to get herd immunity and a successful vaccination going is to double down on all of our tools in our toolkit to suppress viral transmission.

HUANG: He says it's no replacement for other public health measures, but it's one more thing that could help.

Pien Huang, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE END OF THE OCEAN'S "FORSAKEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.