It’s the third summer of the pandemic, and we now know one thing: if you’re traveling, you may need to consider if, when, where, and how to get tested for COVID-19.
If you are an American traveling to another country, you will need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test (or documentation of recent recovery from COVID-19) before you can board a plane back to the United States.
Additionally, you may need or want to get tested for COVID-19 one or more times while you are away. It will depend on where you go, what you do, who you spend time with, and how you feel on a daily basis.
Generally speaking, the higher the COVID-19 rates at your destination, the more likely testing will be a part of your travel experience. With infections on the rise again in many states and other countries, it’s important to stay informed — and ready to be tested.
“A lot of things change very quickly,” says David Banach, MD, MPH, hospital epidemiologist at UConn Health in Farmington, Connecticut. “I think the key is to be mindful of what’s happening right before you travel.”
Here, doctors and other expert sources offer advice on how and when to test, and how to keep yourself and those around you safe no matter where you travel.
1. Well before leaving home, find out about your destination
Especially for international travel, you’ll want to do your research for the latest COVID-19 entry regulations and strategize.
Many countries, such as England and Mexico, currently have no COVID-related entry rules in place, whether testing or vaccination.
But if you plan to travel to France from the United States and you are not vaccinated, you will need to show proof of a negative PCR test taken less than 72 hours before departure or of an antigen test (rapid) negative administered less than 48 hours before. to your flight.
The only way to circumvent this testing requirement is to show documentation of recent recovery from COVID-19 or medical exemption from vaccination.
2. Rules or no rules, remember to test before you travel
Regardless of the regulations at your destination, “Generally, a prudent approach would be to test before travelling,” says Dr. Banach.
The CDC advises anyone traveling in the United States or internationally to “consider getting tested as close to departure time as possible (no more than three days) before your trip.”
Should you take a PCR test, or is an antigen test or home test just as effective? “The increased sensitivity of the PCR test provides a higher level of security,” says Banach.
3. Prepare for home tests in case you start to feel sick while you’re away
Bring a stash of home test kits with you so it’s more convenient to do a quick check during your trip. “When you travel, if you develop symptoms, you’ll want immediate access to testing,” says Luis Ostrosky, MD, chief of infectious diseases at UTHealth Houston and Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center.
“You should definitely test when you have the slightest symptoms,” he adds. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, ‘I thought it was just allergies.'”
He explains that FDA-authorized home testing kits are good for detecting COVID-19 in people who have symptoms, such as a sore throat or cough. If your home test is positive, you have COVID-19.
There is more chance of false negatives with home kits, meaning your test result tells you you are not infected when in fact you are. Don’t let a negative result from just one home test give you a false sense of security, emphasizes Dr. Ostrosky.
To increase accuracy, “We recommend repeating the test several times,” he says. This is why the kits usually contain two tests, to be used 24 to 48 hours apart.
4. Find out where you can get a PCR test at your destination
If you have symptoms but test negative on several home tests, it is also best to have a PCR test.
Also, if you’re feeling perfectly fine but want to be sure you’re not infected — because you’re planning to spend time with an older person at risk for severe COVID-19, for example — you might want to be getting a PCR test in addition to taking other precautions like masking.
For domestic travelers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) site can direct you to a testing location near you anywhere in the United States.
If you’re traveling overseas, you might want to dig ahead. A quick internet search may be all you need to find a PCR testing site, or your hotel staff may be able to direct you to a local hospital, urgent care center or other location. of testing.
Make sure you know if your insurance will cover the test or expect to pay out of pocket.
5. If you’re an American traveling abroad, prepare to test before boarding your flight home
Anyone returning to the United States from another country must present a negative test taken no later than one day before departure, or proof of recent recovery from COVID-19; see the CDC website for more information.
In many international destinations, local pharmacies administer antigen tests and provide the documentation you’ll need for the airline. Airports may also offer testing, but consider the time in case you have to wait in line.
As another option, you can use a home test linked to telehealth services. With these types of tests, a proctor monitors a video call while you test yourself; you then receive proof of the result via an app.
This is the only type of self-test that meets CDC requirements for re-entry into the United States. You might want to pack one in your luggage and download the app before you travel.
Among the most widely used choices are Abbott’s BinaxNOW home tests paired with eMed’s telehealth services (note: Everyday Health Health and Medical Editor Patrice Harris, MD, FAPA, is the co-founder and CEO of eMed) and Ellume home testing with video supervision from Azova.
6. Ask yourself if you should test again when you get home
Should I test when I return from my trip? The CDC recommends that you do this in certain scenarios, even if you don’t have symptoms (as long as you haven’t had COVID-19 in the last 90 days).
“Get tested post-travel if your trip involved situations of greater risk of exposure, such as being in crowded places without wearing a properly fitted mask or respirator,” the agency advises.
You also need to think about what you will do when you get home and the likelihood that if you are infected you could pass the virus on to others. “Will you participate in group activities? With others more at risk? There are a lot of factors,” says Banach.
Note that any infections you may have picked up during transport could spread to others even before virus levels rise enough for a home or rapid test to be detected, so plan your first few days at the house accordingly.
7. Practice COVID-19 safety throughout your trip and after you get home
COVID-19 tests will not prevent you from getting COVID. You should still apply other key safety measures – including staying up to date on your vaccinations and reminders, masking, social distancing and hand hygiene – to protect yourself and reduce the risk of infecting others.
Even though airlines no longer require masks, wearing one when you’re at the airport and on the plane is still a good idea, Banach says, “I think wearing a mask while traveling, especially air travel is still important. I encourage people to wear a high quality mask while traveling, to protect yourself and others who will be on the flight with you. Also, [wear a mask] if you use another mode of travel, such as a train or a bus.
Ostrosky adds, “The airflow in airplanes is excellent and HEPA filtered. The problem is when you’re sitting right next to someone with COVID – the airflow won’t help. You should mask, either with a double surgical mask or an N95 or KN95, and not remove it at all.
Ostrosky said. “The best thing to protect yourself is to mask up in high-density public places like airports, airplanes, concerts, amusement parks – indoors or outdoors. And it’s definitely better to eat outside than inside.
No matter where you go and how often you plan to test, keep this advice in mind throughout your journey, says Ostrosky: “Mask, mask and mask.”
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