The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the U.S. in a significant way since March of 2020. While the current U.S. administration has taken steps towards expanding vaccine eligibility and accelerating distribution, many people hoped that the vaccine would put an end to the economic and international effects on communities worldwide.

Despite vaccinations taking place throughout the country, COVID-19 cases continue to rise and new strains of the virus have been announced.

In an effort to take action against rising numbers of cases and deaths related to the virus, the U.S. Center for Disease Control's (CDC) Director, Dr. Robert R. Redfield announced that before international passengers board their flights to the U.S., they will be required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test obtained within three days of their scheduled flight.

This new requirement for U.S. air travel is similar to the testing rules recently introduced for air travel to Canada outlined in our Negative COVID-19 Test Required for International Air Travel to Canada blog.

Specifically, Dr. Redfield announced that while testing does not eliminate all risk, when combined with a period of staying at home and everyday precautions such as wearing masks and social distancing, it can make travel healthier and safer for everyone.

This new rule is intended to take effect on January 26, 2021, noting that Dr. Redfield is expected to sign the order on Tuesday, January 19.

Do I have to test if I have already been vaccinated?

CDC spokesperson Jason McDonald noted in his statement that proof of vaccination will not be sufficient since the vaccines have only been proven to prevent serious illness at this time. Since vaccinated people may still become infected and transmit the virus on a flight, the need for a negative COVID-19 test remains.

Does this requirement apply to Americans as well?

The CDC's statements indicate that the requirement will apply to "all international airline passengers" including U.S. citizens. The anticipated order does make some exceptions for airline crews, certain military personnel and passengers under the age of two years.

What if a traveller is unable to get tested prior to travel?

Each airline will be responsible for confirming that each passenger has a negative test result before they board the plane. Should a passenger not be able to provide sufficient proof or if they elected not to be tested, the airlines will be required to deny the individual boarding the aircraft. Thus, no negative test means no travel to the U.S. until sufficient evidence of a test is obtained.

Why now?

During a briefing on the intended policy, Martin Cetron, the Director of the CDC's Division of Global Migration and Quarantine pointed to the surge in air travel to the U.S. since June of 2020 despite the on-going pandemic.

Over the holiday season, there were more than 2.1 million passengers that arrived in the U.S. between December 1 and December 28, 2020 with an average number of 76,000 passengers a day arriving in the U.S. These numbers were four times higher than the initial surge in airline travel seen in June of 2020.

The airlines have also encouraged a rapid-testing program to be implemented to allow necessary and essential travel to resume.

Travel during COVID-19 can be difficult to navigate and inconsistent application of the rules is common. Individuals planning to travel to Canada during the pandemic should obtain a full review and opinion to ensure rules are correctly applied to their application for entry. MLT Aikins has significant experience advising clients on immigration law matters and would be pleased to discuss the implications of this program.

Originally Published by MLT Aikins, January 2021

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.