President Joe Biden has ruled out requiring coronavirus tests for all passengers on domestic flights as of now, saying the scientific evidence doesn’t support implementing the measure.
A White House statement late Friday said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention isn’t recommending testing and that Biden will follow their lead.
“President Biden has taken a number of steps to make travel safer since coming into office, including requiring masking on all air travel and public transit, pre-departure testing for inbound international travel and self-quarantine and testing after international travel,” White House spokesman Kevin Munoz said in a statement. “At this time, CDC is not recommending required point of departure testing for domestic travel. As always, we will follow the science to bring this pandemic to an end.”
The statement comes after the notion of pre-flight testing was floated by CDC director Rochelle Walensky and by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who was asked about it and said it was an ongoing discussion with the CDC.
That touched off an outcry from airlines and unions, with the industry already under heavy pressure from a steep drop in travel because of the pandemic.
Biden has made fighting the pandemic his top priority, giving scientists regular public platforms to warn of the risks, ordering more vaccine doses and imploring Americans to wear masks until at least the end of April.
Earlier Friday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki also cast doubt on the measure being imposed. “Reports that there is an intention to put in place new requirements such as testing are not accurate,” she said. U.S. airline executives met Friday with Jeff Zients, a Biden aide who serves as COVID-19 response coordinator.
U.S. coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have fallen significantly in the past month as the pace of vaccinations has increased — though new, more contagious variants of the disease have emerged and have already been detected on American soil.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a COVID-19 adviser to Biden, has said that the B117 variant found originally in the U.K. could become the dominant strain in the U.S. by late March, thus threatening to reignite the pandemic.
The U.S. has already imposed testing requirements on international flights bound for the U.S., along with wider restrictions on travel from certain regions in an effort to slow the spread of the virus and its emerging variants.
Discussion about testing comes as Congress considers another $15 billion in federal payroll aid that has helped avoid widespread airline employee furloughs. The government thus far has provided about $35 billion in grants and loans to 10 of the largest carriers to cover employee costs, according to figures compiled by Savanthi Syth, a Raymond James Financial Inc. analyst.
Also on Friday, the CDC issued guidance on ways to put students back in schools.
The agency outlined mitigation strategies that include the proper use of masks, social distancing of six feet, strict cleaning and maintenance of classrooms, and rapid contact tracing. And while the guidance doesn’t mandate reopenings, the CDC calls it “critical for schools to open as safely and as quickly as possible for in-person learning.”
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