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Airline COVID-19 Testing Guidelines for Safe Travel

Safety in air travel during a pandemic has become a critical aspect in the reduction of virus transmission. This is especially true when the world has progressed to a point where air travel is part of the behavior of a global community. The initial steps taken to reduce international travel was left up to the individual countries and creating criteria for travel acceptance was up to each airline. As of January, 2021, the CDC established a system of requirements regarding air travel and approval to arrive in the U.S. The new laws are to help reduce COVID-19 transmission and assist in maintaining the safety of people that are traveling.

While testing does not eliminate the risk of the COVID-19 virus, it does contribute to other measures such as wearing a mask and social distancing that have been shown to reduce the chances of transmitting the virus. The problem on a variety of fronts has been moving the typical 3-day wait test to a more convenient and just as efficient series of rapid tests for COVID-19. The introduction of point-of-care products such as CareStart™ Covid-19 Rapid Antigen Test that has been designed to offer results in as little as ten minutes and FaStep® Covid-19 Point-of-care Antibody Test that offers results in 15 minutes are now available to qualified on-site locations to assist in ensuring safety for guests and employees, and to comply with some of the new laws that have been instituted.

CDC Travel Guidelines Defined

The requirements by the CDC currently relate to international travel into the United States. For domestic flights, the CDC has only required an “honor system” statement that a passenger is not sick and doesn’t have symptoms related to the virus. However, as new variants of COVID-19 enter the country, members of the CDC are considering adding the same requirements for both domestic and international flights for testing:

“Before departure to the United States, a required test, combined with the CDC recommendations to get tested again 3-5 days after arrival and stay home for 7 days post-travel, will help slow the spread of COVID-19 within US communities from travel-related infections. Pre-departure testing with results known and acted upon before travel begins will help identify infected travelers before they board airplanes.
Air passengers are required to get a viral test (a test for current infection) within the 3 days before their flight to the U.S. departs, and provide written documentation of their laboratory test result (paper or electronic copy) to the airline or provide documentation of having recovered from COVID-19. Airlines must confirm the negative test result for all passengers or documentation of recovery before they board. If a passenger does not provide documentation of a negative test or recovery, or chooses not to take a test, the airline must deny boarding to the passenger.”

Rapid Testing Removes Some of the Stress

When it comes to air travel, time is always of the essence. The previous COVID-19 testing required that a traveler be tested and then they would often have to wait from 3-5 days to get the test results. During that duration of time a traveler could actually become infected with the virus. In addition, due to the time lag, some travelers were required to cancel their travel plans, arrange for other flights, or even go into quarantine. No one is to blame for these circumstances. We have never been faced with a pandemic such as this combined with the massive quantity and immediacy of international travel.

To address the need, some airlines have created on-site testing options for passengers to sign up and take their COVID-19 test days prior to their flight. This approach is not only less efficient, it also doesn’t guarantee that a passenger isn’t infected when they come aboard. With rapid testing the airlines could make use of existing point-of-care testing facilities as well as act to encourage other airlines to create them for the safety and convenience of everyone. There is common sense to this logic that addresses all of the stress points involved in COVID-19 testing.

Airline Employees Need to Be Tested and Safe

The CDC has established criteria to address airline employees and staff on COVID-19 testing requirements. Since airlines and airport personnel consist of a wide variety of job types, there is a need to implement all safety strategies, including rapid COVID-19 testing:

“COVID-19 Testing: The strategies for using testing and the availability and reliability of testing continue to evolve. They may reach a threshold that enables serious consideration of concepts like rapid non-invasive testing capability for pre- or post- travel passenger baseline COVID-19 status evaluations. Because the capabilities do not currently exist for routine inclusion of a testing strategy, it is not recommended in the current suite of travel-related mitigation measures. The U.S. Government will continue to evaluate such options for possible future integration. Some travel destinations may require evidence of a negative test as a prerequisite for entry or relief from other restrictions. The opportunity for reliable and timely testing prior to departure may help further facilitate domestic and international travel and should be communicated to passengers. Future guidance for passengers will likely include considerations for testing prior to or following travel as testing becomes more readily accessible, as locations reopen, and as travel begins to increase.”

GenePace is currently working with the airline and airport industry to assist in COVID-19 point-of-care rapid test access and to accommodate the challenging logistics.

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