CDC director says COVID-19 tests for US flights could ease spread

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/TNS)
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Angelica LaVito and Josh Wingrove Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The director of the Centers of 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 travelers to receive a negative coronavirus test before boarding domestic flights could be “another mitigation measure,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Monday during a press briefing. She didn’t say whether the CDC will 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.”

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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.

Walensky advised state and local officials against loosening restrictions despite a decline in COVID-19 cases. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds over the weekend lifted the 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.

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.

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