Hmmm: CDC to end COVID testing requirement for air entry to US

AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool

Did the science change, or just the economy and politics? While the CDC keeps prodding the Department of Justice to revive its mask mandate on air travel, it will stop requiring foreign travelers to pass a COVID-19 test to enter the country. CNN reports this morning that the new rule could go into effect as early as Sunday.

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But they’re not going to let go of that authority, either:

The Biden administration is expected to announce Friday that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will lift its requirement for travelers to test negative for Covid-19 before entering the US, according to a senior administration official.

The move, which CNN was first to report, will go into effect for US-bound air travelers at midnight on Sunday.

The CDC is lifting the restriction that the travel industry had lobbied against for months after determining it was no longer necessary “based on the science and data,” the official said. The CDC will reassess its decision in 90 days and if officials decide they need to reinstate it, because of a concerning new variant, for example, will do so. The measure has been in place since January 2021.

That same impulse supposedly drives the CDC’s effort to appeal the Florida ruling that negated its domestic travel mask mandate. The authority for international travel may be just as shaky, at least coming from the CDC itself, for the same reasons they lost in Florida. Their enabling statute does not give the CDC authority over personal behavior or health of individuals, but only the authority to order sanitization of environments. A court challenge on the testing mandate might have been less likely, but it still might have been tough to defend.

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With the CDC warning about new variants on the rise, though, this seems like an odd time to end this barrier to international entry. If Americans may need to mask up in public areas again, why wouldn’t we keep this testing requirement in place? The White House may be looking more at the economic impact of keeping tourists out of the US than the health impact of letting them enter:

Travel industry officials have been increasingly critical of the requirement in recent weeks and directly urged the Biden administration to end the measure, arguing it was having a chilling effect on an already fragile economy, according to Airlines for America chief Nick Calio, whose group met recently with White House officials.

The travel industry, and some scientific experts, said the policy had been out of date for months.

It was out of date when the CDC last rewrote the requirement in January 2022. By that time, vaccinations had been widely adopted in the US, and the dominant variant was both more transmissible and much more mild. Arguably, foreigners may have been more at risk than Americans from international exchanges of travelers. By January, when we had a massive case spike but very little indications of any shortage of resources in hospitals and clinics, the pandemic was manageable in the US.

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Like many of CDC’s actions over the past couple of years, this looks more like a decision based on politics than epidemiology. So too does their decision to pursue an appeal of the Florida ruling on the mask mandate for air travel domestically, especially since those two positions are irreconcilable. If we don’t care whether international air travelers are infected with COVID-19, then why are we forcing domestic airline passengers to wear masks in airports and airplanes?

Perhaps Brant Hadaway, the lead attorney for plaintiffs in the Florida case, will get a chance to ask that on appeal. I spoke with Brant for Tuesday’s podcast of The Ed Morrissey Show about the other issues in the appeal.

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David Strom 4:30 PM | May 28, 2024
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