CDC announces end to COVID-19 airport screenings for international travelers entering US

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the government will stop conducting enhanced screening of passengers for COVID-19 on inbound international flights.

“The United States Government (USG) is innovating and taking a new approach to help keep international air passengers healthy,” the CDC released in a press release on Wednesday.

Screenings have been conducted at select U.S. airports since January, when the first cases of the coronavirus were reported from Wuhan, China. In March, incoming international flights from select high-risk countries had to be directed to 15 designated airports in the United States.

Starting Monday, the U.S. government will remove requirements directing all flights carrying airline passengers arriving from certain countries to land at one of 15 designated airports and will halt health screenings from passengers arriving from other countries.

Currently, enhanced entry health screenings are conducted for those arriving from, or with recent travel to, China, Iran, the Schengen region of Europe, the United Kingdom , Ireland and Brazil. Upon arrival to the U.S., travelers from the designated regions are required to undergo health screenings, which take the passenger’s temperature, and to answer health screen COVID-19 questions.

But the requirements will be eliminated on Monday, according to the CDC.

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“We now have a better understanding of COVID-19 transmission that indicates symptom-based screening has limited effectiveness because people with COVID-19 may have no symptoms or fever at the time of screening, or only mild symptoms,” the CDC stated.

The CDC said it is shifting its strategy to prioritize other public health measures to reduce the risk of travel-related disease transmission.

The U.S. government plans to focus its mitigation efforts on other areas, including health education for passengers, robust illness response on airports, and potential testing and country-specific risk assessments to assist passengers make informed decisions about travel-related risk, according to the CDC.

“By refocusing our mitigation efforts on individual passenger risk throughout the air travel journey, the USG can most effectively protect the health of the American public,” the press release said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Customs and Border Protection did not respond to a request for comment.

The announcement to cease pre-screenings comes amid still-increasing COVID-19 case numbers in the country. As of Thursday, the U.S. had recorded nearly 6.4 million COVID-19 cases and more than 190,000 deaths.

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In August, the U.S. State Department lifted its “Global Level 4 Health Advisory” on Thursday, which was previously put in place to limit international travel amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“With health and safety conditions improving in some countries and potentially deteriorating in others, the Department is returning to our previous system of country-specific levels of travel advice (with Levels from 1-4 depending on country-specific conditions), in order to give travelers detailed and actionable information to make informed travel decisions,” the U.S. State Department said in a notice posted online.

Last month, the United States, Canada and Mexico also agreed to extend limits on non-essential travel at their shared borders through Sept. 21 in an ongoing effort limit the spread of COVID-19.