U.S. airports will soon stop performing temperature checks and other screenings for COVID-19 on international arrivals, Yahoo News reports.
Screenings for COVID-19 symptoms began back in January on flights from China, eventually expanding to flights arriving from Europe and elsewhere in mid-March after President Donald Trump levied more major travel restrictions. It funneled most international flights through just 15 U.S. airports, requiring passengers to get a temperature check, complete a questionnaire for COVID-19 symptoms, and provide information for contact tracing.
Amid a still-growing pandemic, those screenings meant to curb the spread of coronavirus will stop as soon as Monday, Sept. 14 under order from the White House, Yahoo News reports, citing confidential sources. Reuters has also confirmed the story. The White House, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and other federal agencies did not comment on the reports.
But why? And what does it mean?
Stopping COVID-19 Airport Screenings
International travel has fallen off a cliff: Travel bans and restrictions across the globe have made flying to most foreign countries nearly impossible for U.S. travelers. Yet major U.S. and foreign airlines are still running many flights between major U.S. and international hubs like Amsterdam (AMS), London-Heathrow (LHR), Frankfurt (FRA), Tokyo-Haneda (HND), and others.
The airport screenings for arriving international travelers have been criticized as lax, falling far short of the COVID-19 testing many other countries are performing.
In the U.S., those health screenings were administered by a third-party contractor and overseen by the CDC. They included temperature checks, a checklist for potential COVID-19 symptoms, and collecting information for contact tracing if a positive case was tied back to one of these international flights.
Scrapping that requirements also means international flights will no longer be restricted to flow through just 15 major U.S. airports with screenings in place. Those airports included:
- Atlanta (ATL)
- Boston (BOS)
- Chicago-O'Hare (ORD)
- Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW)
- Detroit (DTW)
- Fort Lauderdale (FLL)
- Honolulu (HNL)
- Houston-Intercontinental (IAH)
- Los Angeles (LAX)
- Miami (MIA)
- Newark (EWR)
- New York City (JFK)
- San Francisco (SFO)
- Seattle (SEA)
- Washington, D.C.-Dulles (IAD)
But that doesn't mean all the international long-haul routes will resume to smaller cities like Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) or Phoenix (PHX) anytime soon.
With international travel numbers so low, airlines are consolidating their international flying through the biggest hubs. Officials at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport don't expect major international routes to Tokyo, London, Iceland, and beyond to resume until spring 2021 – at the earliest.
And of course, this does nothing to lift the bans other countries have set on U.S. travelers. Nearly all of Europe has banned U.S. travelers from entering, and there's no sign of that changing soon.
The U.S. health screening system for international travel was far from perfect. But it's puzzling to see even these meager COVID-19 screenings disappear as the country (and the world) still grapples with the pandemic.