CDC director says preflight covid tests may ease spread


The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested that testing people for the coronavirus before U.S. domestic flights could help reduce transmission, as she urged state and local leaders to maintain steps to limit Covid-19’s spread.

Requiring air travelers to receive a negative coronavirus test before boarding could be “another mitigation measure,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Monday during a press briefing. She didn’t say whether the CDC would move forward with the policy, which the Biden administration is actively considering.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told Axios the discussion is ongoing and the decision will be “guided by data, by science, by medicine, and by the input of the people who are actually going to have to carry this out.”

In an interview with CNN on Monday night he said, “I would say that the CDC is looking at all its options.”

“What we know is that it’s the appropriate medicine for international travel, people traveling into the U.S. given some of those considerations. I’d say the domestic picture is very different, but you know the CDC is always evaluating what can best be done to keep the American people safe.”

Walensky’s comments came as federal health officials watch for more evidence that a variant of the coronavirus widespread in the U.K. will become the dominant strain in the U.S. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that could happen by the end of March.

So far, 699 variant cases have been identified, 690 of which are the U.K. strain. Walensky said the U.S. expects to at least triple its sequencing in the next several weeks, giving it a better snapshot of how widely the variants may have already spread on U.S. soil.

“Once we have more sequencing that’s happening, we’ll have a better idea as to how many variants there are and what proportion are out there,” she said.

Covid Restrictions

Walensky advised state and local officials against loosening restrictions despite a decline in Covid cases. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds over the weekend lifted that state’s mask mandate and other guidelines implemented amid a crush of cases in the fall.

“I’m asking everyone to please keep your guard up. The continued proliferation of variants remains a great concern,” Walensky said.

The administration plans to release guidance on reopening schools in coming days, she said.

Officials also urged patience as Covid-19 vaccines are rolled out.

More than 17 million vaccine doses have been administered to people 65 and older, said Andy Slavitt, senior adviser to the Biden administration’s coronavirus response team. A federal initiative to vaccinate residents and employees of long-term care facilities has delivered 4.8 million doses to 3.7 million people so far, he said.

Dozens of states are redistributing doses that were meant for the program and are going unused. Slavitt did not say how many total doses were earmarked for it.

Fauci pushed back on the idea of administering just one of two required vaccine doses to expand capacity. Trial data indicates the immune response is far greater after someone receives both doses and cutting it to one could inadvertently create new mutant strains, he said.

Buttigieg said in the CNN interview that the Biden administration is not considering requiring airline passengers to provide proof of vaccinations before flights.

“That’s not a step that has been taken and, again, the CDC is really in the lead on deciding what the right measures will be,” he said. “I think right now the focus, especially at a time when most Americans haven’t had a vaccine, haven’t had access to vaccine, is to make sure while we’re getting those vaccinations out to everybody we possibly can, that we are also maintaining those measures that we also know work, like masks.”