ASTA: Rescinding Testing Requirement Would Incentivize Vaccinations

Following up on a message from earlier this month, the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) is again calling on the Biden Administration to exempt fully vaccinated U.S. travelers from the current one-day testing requirement for entry into the country.

In an article on LinkedIn, ASTA president and CEO Zane Kerby brought up the U.S. border closure to South Africa and seven other nearby countries once the Omicron variant was discovered. At this same time, the U.S. reduced the period in which you could provide a negative COVID test result from three to one days. Kerby poses two questions: Did these two measures achieve their desired outcome; and what even was the desired outcome?

If it was to slow the spread of COVID in the U.S., Kerby implies the measures didn’t work. ASTA provided a graphic with data sourced from Wikipedia, government health ministries, The New York Times and other “authoritative sources” detailing the number of COVID cases in the U.S. Starting from December 1, 2021 (the U.S. closed its borders to the eight African countries on November 26, 2021), cases rose each week through the end of the month, with the seven-day average on January 15, 2022 being a record for the entire pandemic. Only then, did cases begin to drop. (The Biden Administration removed the travel ban on December 24, 2021.)

Covid cases graphic

If, however, the desired outcome was “to incentivize vaccination,” Kerby says this can be accomplished by using travel as an incentive, not a punishment.

“The Administration’s plainly and repeatedly stated goal is to get more Americans vaccinated,” Kerby says. “Despite vaccines being widely available and free, the vaccination rate in the U.S. has stagnated in the low 60 percent range for months. And this is the case even though according to the CDC, those vaccinated and boosted are 13 times less likely to test positive for COVID, 16 times less likely to be hospitalized, and are 68 times less likely to die from contracting COVID. Vaccines are safe and effective.”

He adds that ASTA’s consumer research has found that “being able to travel internationally is a strong incentive to get vaccinated for those still on the fence.” To that effect, 58 percent of travelers agreed that a requirement to be tested for COVID would be a “major impediment” for international travel, while 66 percent said that being vaccinated would make them more likely to fly commercially.

“If the Administration is serious about achieving its primary policy goal of getting more Americans vaccinated, it should rescind the CDC’s testing requirement for those U.S. citizens who are fully vaccinated,” Kerby says. Doing so would reopen travel to 200 million Americans, he adds.

CDC Downgrades Threat Level for Cruise Travel

Earlier this week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lowered its Travel Health Notice level for cruise ship travel—from the highest threat level of 4 to a bit lower level of 3. The move was made because cumulative COVID-19 case count among crew members met the threshold for a lower level and remained so for 14 consecutive days.

With the downgrade, the CDC is no longer recommending that cruise travel be avoided, regardless of vaccination status.

Speaking on this, Kerby said, “ASTA welcomes the CDC’s action to downgrade its extreme ‘Level 4’ warning against cruise travel, regardless of vaccination status, which we roundly criticized when it was instituted. This level of warning was completely unnecessary given the extraordinarily stringent anti-COVID measures put in place voluntarily by the cruise lines in close consultation with the CDC. We call on the Administration to continue moving toward a consistent, predictable regulatory environment for cruise and broader travel industry stakeholders as COVID moves into the endemic phase."

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