The Biden administration is expected to announce stricter COVID-19 testing requirements for all travelers entering the U.S. on Thursday, including returning Americans, according to a new report.
Three federal health officials reportedly told the Washington Post the administration is readying stricter testing requirements amid concern over the new Omicron variant. The new guidance would require everyone entering the U.S. to be tested one day before boarding flights, regardless of vaccination status or country of departure.
Officials are also weighing a requirement that all travelers get retested within three to five days of arrival, as well as a proposal to require all travelers to self-quarantine for seven days, even if they test negative.
The requirements could be enforced by fines and penalties, according to the report.
While the two testing measures are included in a draft public health order written by the CDC that is currently under review by officials at the White House and the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, the self-quarantine requirements are not included in the draft. However, a self-quarantine measure could be added later, officials told the paper.
If the new rules take effect, they would mark a departure from the current guidance that requires only unvaccinated air travelers to be tested no more than one day before departure. Currently, those who show proof of full vaccination must be tested no more than three days before the flight’s departure.
The CDC said Tuesday it is working to require testing for all international air travelers one day before departure to the U.S. The agency already recommends that travelers test again three to five days after arrival and that unvaccinated travelers quarantine for a minimum of seven days.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during a White House COVID briefing on Tuesday that the agency is weighing a number of measures to protect Americans from the new variant, including evaluating “how to make international travel as safe as possible, including pre-departure testing closer to the time of flight, and considerations around additional post-arrival testing and self-quarantines.”
It is possible the new policy could be implemented in a week or two, one official said.
The report comes after Biden on Friday imposed a travel ban on eight African countries in response to the omicron variant. The strain has been detected in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi. The ban followed an announcement by the World Health Organization that the variant has a “large number of mutation” some of which are “concerning.”
Since the ban was put in place, omicron has been identified in some 19 countries worldwide. Meanwhile, little is known about the new variant.