Want to fly? Get a COVID test

Now that Pete Buttigieg is in charge of the Transportation Department (because he’s always liked cars, you know), does he have any new plans in the works? One thing that’s made it onto his radar is the possibility of requiring a negative COVID test from anyone wishing to board a flight, including regional and domestic routes. According to Buttigieg, that’s a conversation currently going on between his office and the CDC. Requiring tests for international travel makes sense as long as there are different variants cropping up around the world. But for short hops between regional airports and the major hubs? Let’s see where this edition of “Follow the Science” is taking us. (NY Times)

Federal officials are considering whether to require airline passengers to have a negative coronavirus test before boarding domestic flights, according to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Proof of a negative test result is already required for passengers boarding international flights bound for the United States, under a policy imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month.

In a program that aired on Sunday night, Mr. Buttigieg told “Axios on HBO” that “there’s an active conversation with the C.D.C. right now” about whether to require a negative test for domestic travel as well.

On top of this, we’ve already learned that the domestic airlines don’t plan on lifting their face mask requirements any time soon, assuming they ever do. So let’s see if we have this straight. If you are forced to board an airplane on a domestic flight for some reason, you’re going to need to provide proof of a negative COVID test. Would that be one of those “instant tests” they could do with a swab at the TSA checkpoints or would a test from your doctor’s office or public testing site be good enough? If the latter, how “fresh” would the test have to be? If you were tested a couple of days earlier, you could have walked past any number of sneezing, breathing, or singing individuals in that period, particularly if you’re navigating your way around an airport.

But let’s say the airlines pull that all together. So you have a planeload of people who have all tested negative for COVID, including both the passengers and the crew. They’re all isolated inside of a plane cabin. But the airline is still going to make you wear a mask for the entire flight? Except, of course, for when you’re eating or drinking after the drink cart comes by. But as soon as you lower your mask to take a bite, you’re breathing out air into the cabin. Remind me why we’re doing all of this again?

A negative test result is only the first phase of this plan, I assure you. It’s the precursor to a full-blown system of Immunity Passports that travel industry executives have already been working on. Later in the game you’ll need to show that you’ve been vaccinated, but for now, a negative test result is the best they’ll be able to do. But the time is coming when an inability or unwillingness to comply with pandemic restrictions will ground you permanently. And if you have a job that requires regular travel you can guess what happens next. Oh, and I hope all of your relatives and loved ones living within driving distance of you.

Even as vaccinations are happening around the country, we seem to be moving toward more restrictions of free movement rather than less. All of these executive orders are starting to take on a feeling of permanence, aren’t they? At some point, with a high enough level of herd immunity, the mortality and hospitalization rates for COVID are going to drop down to something roughly equal to the seasonal flu. What will the government do at that point? What excuse will they come up with to keep imposing these sorts of restrictions when we never had to do any of this for the flu every year?

Perhaps they won’t bother coming up with an excuse at all. I’ve been waving red flags about this subject since the lockdowns first began. Power is a highly addictive drug. Once you hand it off to a bunch of mayors and governors, they might not feel all that inspired to kick the habit. That can’t be allowed to happen. This is not normal. This is never going to be normal. And we don’t have to allow it to become permanent.