Top officials in the Biden administration confirmed in recent days that conversations remain ongoing about requiring Americans traveling on domestic flights to confirm a negative coronavirus test before traveling.
What's the background?
The federal government has not implemented testing requirements for Americans flying domestically. Thus far, the most stringent restriction for travelers is the requirement for face coverings, a policy implemented by the airlines themselves. The Transportation Security Administration also requires face masks in secure travel areas.
However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a new policy last month that requires international travelers, including American citizens, to show a negative COVID-19 test prior to entry into the U.S.
What is under consideration?
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg confirmed in an interview with Axios that the CDC is considering implementing a testing policy for domestic flights, but played coy about the chances of such a policy becoming reality.
"Well, there's an active conversation with the CDC right now," Buttigieg said.
"What I can tell you is this going to be guided by data, by science, by medicine, and by the input of the people who are actually going to have to carry this out," he continued. "But here's the thing, the safer we can make air travel in terms of perception as well as reality, the more people are going to be ready to get back in the air."
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Meanwhile, new CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Monday at a White House COVID response briefing that testing passengers for COVID-19 before traveling would mitigate virus spread.
"To the extent that we have available tests to be able to do testing, first and foremost, I would really encourage people to not travel," she said, CNN reported.
"But if we are traveling, this would be yet another mitigation measure to try and decrease the spread," Walensky said.
What is the reaction?
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, as well as the airline industry, have expressed concern over the prospect of mandated testing.
Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) said such a policy would "punish this industry and stop it at its most critical time from being able to overcome what we've all gone through and especially the aviation industry over the last year," according to Roll Call.
Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, also recently said, "I have concerns that the CDC is considering a national mandate that everyone have a COVID test before they fly. That would mean an immediate increase of at least 50 percent in daily testing capacity and I don't know where that comes from."
Meanwhile, Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO, said the Biden administration would hurt the airline industry if they enacted a testing policy.
"The furloughs that we saw in October would be dwarfed by the furloughs we would see if we had a testing mandate that we can't effectively run," she said, Roll Call reported. "It would be devastating and in that situation we wouldn't just be talking about lost jobs, we would also likely be talking about airline bankruptcies."