According to a CDC order, airlines must comply with these rules to receive clearance to disembark passengers in the United States.
What kinds of tests are needed?
The CDC says negative results must come out of a test that can detect an ongoing infection, picking up pieces of the pathogen itself. Two types of tests fall into this category: molecular tests (which include PCR tests) and antigen tests. (Antibody tests, which can only determine if someone has been infected in the past, don’t count.)
Molecular tests look for segments of the virus’s genetic material, or RNA. The most common molecular tests rely on a proven technique called polymerase chain reaction, or PCR – a gold standard in the diagnosis of infectious diseases. PCR tests can be expensive, and because they require samples to go to labs, it can take a few days to return results. Experts say it’s a good idea to plan ahead if you go for this type of test.
There are a few rapid molecular tests that can be performed from start to finish in a doctor’s office in minutes. These include Abbott’s ID Now test. They are considered to be less accurate than PCR-based tests, but will allow you to get answers faster.
Antigen tests look for pieces of coronavirus protein or antigens. They tend to be less accurate than molecular tests and are worse at detecting the virus when it is rare. But most antigen testing can be done very quickly and inexpensively, taking just a few minutes to produce results.
Some antigen tests are only allowed for people with symptoms and may more frequently give inaccurate results when used to screen people who feel healthy.
Depending on the country travelers are departing from, some tests may not be available – and, therefore, these new rules will likely make it significantly more difficult for people to enter the United States. Testing is typically offered by health care providers or community testing sites, which can be located through tourist bureaus and local health care providers. Some airports, like Heathrow in London, offer coronavirus testing on site. And a few airlines, like American, Jet Blue, and United, offer to help their customers in certain countries organize tests. Delta, for example, has partnered with the Mayo Clinic and national health authorities in several countries to facilitate the testing and travel process.