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Transportation officials discuss making COVID-19 tests mandatory in order to fly

Harvard researchers approve, airlines not so sure
Will COVID-19 tests soon be required to fly domestically?
Posted at 1:36 PM, Feb 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-15 15:36:11-05

If you're looking at getting back on a flight to travel inside the United States, you could soon have an added step in that pre-flight checklist, a COVID-19 test. News5 has a look at the conversations going on between transportation officials and the impact this decision could have.

According Transportation Secretary Pete Butigieg, the Biden administration is considering a rule that would require a negative COVID-19 test in order to board a domestic flight. The discussion follows a CDC rule that went into effect at the end of January requiring negative COVID-19 tests for international travelers.

In a recent interview Buttigieg told Axios on HBO...

"There's an active conversation with the CDC right now." Butigieg then continued, "What I can tell you is, it's going to 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."

Almost a year into the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic the airline industry is still working to overcome the challenges of safety and bolstering the confidence of travelers.

Ken Jenkins is a crisis response strategist for the transportation industry who spent decades working for American Airlines. He tells News5 a decision to require tests for domestic air travel could have a wide ranging impact.

"From a government perspective they have to look at all of those things. They have to look at the airport impact, the rental car industry impact, hotels, airlines, all of the safety, how many cases of COVID-19 have been transmitted between passengers on a flight? And then weigh the risk and that's what we're looking at here," said Jenkins.

In a recent white house briefing the CDC Director said she is still encouraging people not to travel unless they have to.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been brutal for U.S. airlines and significant relief isn't expected until the second half of 2021. According to some estimates, U.S. carriers' 2020 net losses likely topped $35 billion.

Airline industry leaders have sent letters to the Biden administration with their concerns about what this COVID-19 testing requirement decision could mean for air travel in the United States.

"If the government were to say everyone who wants to fly needs to have a COVID-19 test beforehand there could be that economic impact to the industry of passengers who say, then I'm not going to go. We're already hit in the transportation industry with this huge decline in travel as we know, and layoffs. Some of those layoffs have been mitigated by the stimulus bills, but we can't continue (this) non-stop," said Jenkins.

Harvard University researchers studying ways to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission during air travel endorsed the idea of rapid testing of passengers. In the study it says requiring testing for all travelers would not guarantee a plane full of virus-free passengers but may serve a "critical need'' in identifying asymptomatic passengers and keeping them off planes, reducing the risk of transmission.

News5 will continue to follow this story to see if a decision is made to make this kind of testing a requirement.