ANTIGUA | The new Center for Disease Control rules requiring travelers visiting or returning to the United States from abroad are supposed to help prevent the newer strains of the COVID-19 virus out of the country while making air travel safer and thus providing a degree of comfort and certainty to those who travel.
Early indications are that the rules will accomplish none of these goals in the short-term and may make it far more difficult for U.S. travelers to leave and return home.
The U.S. currently and for the foreseeable future will require a negative COVID-19 test of travelers boarding planes headed for the United States within three days of embarkation. Sounds simple enough, but as a practical matter taking a test within the allotted time period and getting the results before take off can be iffy.
An additional problem arises as the United States recognizes the validity of both standard laboratory tests and the newer antigen tests that yield faster but conceivably less accurate results. Some other countries to which Americans might travel will admit visitors with the negative results of either test, but others won’t.
I experienced the problems this can lead to a week or so ago as my wife and I headed to the Caribbean for a long delayed vacation. Our airline required a negative test within five days of departure because that was what passengers expecting to be admitted to Antigua would be required to present to immigration on arrival there.
We called dozens of testing facilities in the D.C. area beginning more than a week before our departure date only to learn that in many cases they couldn’t be scheduled until too late, and that those who would agree to do the tests couldn’t promise to have the results available by our departure date.
We were at a loss until one of the test providers suggested that an alternative antigen test could be scheduled with much quicker results to satisfy our needs. It was more expensive, but we got the tests and the results were provided the next day. Breathing a sigh of relief, we presented the results to our airline when we arrived at the airport and they were found acceptable so we were allowed to board. We winged our way south looking forward to some time away from Washington and its recent turmoils.
But, alas, that was not to be. On our arrival in Antigua we were informed that antigen tests are not accepted here and told that we would be required to re-board and return home. Finally, after working our way through various bureaucratic levels we were allowed to take a new test at the airport and to stay if we agreed not to run around in public for two days until the earlier negative findings could be reconfirmed.
The immigration and health officials with whom we dealt here and who eventually worked out a solution were not surprised when we told them that no one in the U.S. had told us the test we took and paid for in Washington wouldn’t pass muster here. We were told that our mistake was in relying on assurances from our government; they had learned not to rely on theirs and wondered just why we thought we could rely on ours.
Now, with the new CDC rules in effect, we are in the midst of trying to find a way to get a test here that will allow us to return home. We have already been informed that doing so given the time requirements being imposed by the U.S. will be difficult and expensive. I suspect we’ll have worked our way through the problem by the time you read this, but others are likely to run into similar problems now that the new rules are being observed by American carriers.
The problems one runs into on the ground or in this case in the air are often unforeseen as government bureaucrats impose rules without much real consideration of whether there is any practical way for people to comply.
Perhaps the logjam on getting tests in the Washington area will lessen and everyone will agree on what tests that can be administered in a finite period of time will be acceptable here and in other countries, but until that happens new rules designed to stop the spread of a mutated version of the virus that the experts say is already on the loose in the U.S. while making something approaching normal air travel possible once again seems to have failed even as it begins.
• David A. Keene is an editor at large for The Washington Times.
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