Beginning Monday, travelers heading to the U.S. will be required to show evidence of a negative COVID-19 test within one day of boarding their flight instead of three days prior.
Also, President Biden will extend the federal rule requiring passengers on planes, trains and buses to wear face masks through March 18. It was scheduled to expire in mid-January.
The Biden administration’s moves come after the White House announced a ban on travel to the U.S. by foreign nationals who have been to South Africa or seven other African countries within the previous 14 days.
That travel ban does not apply to U.S. citizens and permanent residents, and it’s possible the ban could be lifted soon.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the restrictions “travel apartheid,” and Dr. Anthony Fauci said U.S. officials “feel very badly about the hardship that has been put on not only on South Africa but the other African countries.”
“Hopefully we’ll be able to lift that ban in a quite reasonable period of time,” Fauci said.
Thus far, the omicron variant had been detected in about a third of U.S. states, including in California. Three cases are confirmed in Los Angeles County, including two new ones on Monday. One is a vaccinated USC student who traveled to the East Coast over the holiday, while the other patient had recently came back from West Africa, according to county health officials.
“This latest case of the Omicron variant in Los Angeles County underscores how critical safety measures are while traveling,” Barbara Ferrer, the county’s health director, said after the third case was reported Monday evening. “These requirements include a negative test before boarding your flight, wearing a mask, and not traveling while you are sick. Residents should also consider delaying travel until their and all of their traveling companions are fully vaccinated.”
The county’s first case involved someone who had returned from a trip to South Africa, where the variant was first discovered.
Here’s what travelers should know:
New testing requirements
Starting Monday, the U.S. will begin requiring all inbound international travelers to test for COVID-19 within one day of their flight to the U.S., regardless of their nationality or vaccination status.
That will replace a similar three-day requirement in effect since early November, when the administration scrapped country-specific travel bans.
“This tighter testing timetable provides an added degree of protection as scientists continue to study the omicron variant,” Biden said during a brief appearance to announce his latest measures against the virus.
Do testing requirements apply to children?
Yes, but children under 2 years old do not need to get tested. There is also an option for people who can prove they have recovered from COVID-19 in the past 90 days. Learn more about these requirements.
Do you have to get the test exactly 24 hours before travel?
No. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s policy specifies that travelers must get tested one day before the flight’s departure, but does not say it has to be exactly 24 hours before.
“The Order uses a 1-day time frame instead of 24 hours to provide more flexibility to the air passenger and aircraft operator,” the CDC says. “By using a 1-day window, test acceptability does not depend on the time of the flight or the time of day that the test sample was taken.”
That means if your flight is at 1 p.m. on a Friday, you could board with a negative test that was taken any time on the prior Thursday, the agency explains.
Face mask rules
The Transportation Security Administration will extend the requirement to wear a mask on planes, trains, subways and other public transportation including airports and bus terminals through the winter.
Fines, which were doubled earlier this year, will remain in a range of $500 to $3,000.
The mask rule has become a flashpoint on flights, and some in the airline industry are eager to see the mandate go away. Airlines have reported more than 5,000 incidents of unruly passengers to federal authorities since the start of the year, with about three-fourths of the events involving passengers who refuse to wear a mask.
Is testing and quarantine required after arrival?
No, it is not required but the CDC recommends that all travelers get tested three to five days after travel.
Travelers are advised to self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms and isolate and get tested if they do develop symptoms.
It is also recommended that those who are not fully vaccinated stay home and self-quarantine for a full seven days after travel, even if they test negative within three to five days after arrival.
Unvaccinated travelers who don’t get tested are advised to stay home and self-quarantine for 10 days after travel.
If the traveler has recovered from a documented coronavirus infection within the past 90 days before travel, they do not need to get a test three to five days after travel, even if they’re unvaccinated, the CDC says.
At Los Angeles International Airport, arriving travelers can head to a newly established rapid coronavirus testing site at the airport’s international terminal.