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Travel advisor Janet Mosley knows firsthand that securing COVID-19 test results in under 72 hours is a tall order. The owner of Leisure Lady Travel in Westland, Mich., Mosley had to cancel a trip to Aruba earlier this month after a testing facility near Detroit, which initially promised her a 24-hour turnaround, said her COVID-19 test results wouldn’t be ready for at least a week.
In late June, Aruba announced a pretest protocol requiring visitors residing in several U.S. states to show proof of a negative COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test completed no later than 72 hours before boarding a plane to the Caribbean island. Mosley made plans to visit a few weeks ago, along with other travel advisors, but they all cancelled after deciding Aruba’s pretesting requirements posed too great a challenge.
“Getting the test back in that period of time is virtually impossible,” Mosley said of the 72-hour pretest window announced in recent weeks by several tourism destinations, including Tahiti, Alaska and Hawaii.
Getting the test back in that period of time is virtually impossible.
“I had to move my trip back to September because it’s just not able to be done in my area,” she said of Aruba’s short pretest restrictions. “No one can guarantee me they would have it back.”
Travelers in other parts of the country may also find that fulfilling the COVID-19 pretest requirements — which are mandated by an increasing number of tourism destinations — is virtually impossible.
“The current recommendation of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and here in Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, is we do not test asymptomatic individuals who essentially want to be tested for the sole purpose of having a test result,” said Dr. Timothy Brewer, a professor of infectious disease and epidemiology at University of California, Los Angeles. “And travel would fall into that category.”
According to Brewer, CDC’s virus testing recommendations stipulate those eligible for testing should either be experiencing symptoms; have been exposed to someone diagnosed with COVID-19 or someone who is exhibiting symptoms; or they should be individuals at high risk, such as elderly residents living in congregate care facilities.
Tara Burke, a spokesperson for CVS Health, echoes Brewer’s comments when referring to CVS Health’s own policy for individuals seeking COVID-19 tests at its pharmacies across the U.S.
“We follow CDC guidelines, which state you need to have symptoms such as cough, fever and/or loss of taste,” she said.
Still, Brewer says there are likely more than a few doctors out there willing to look past CDC guidelines in order for their patients to get away.
“If all doctors are following the county public health guidelines, then it would not matter which doctor you went to,” he said. “They would say, ‘Gee, I’m sorry. This does not really meet those criteria.’ That having been said, we know doctors do sometimes order these kinds of tests for these kinds of reasons.”
CDC guidelines operate as a recommendation for the entire U.S., says Brewer, but state and local governments have the final word on their own policies. And in some places across the country, COVID-19 testing for travel may be entirely acceptable.
Receiving results in under 72 hours, however, might be an increasingly difficult challenge.
“We still have less than optimal testing capacity across the country, and a number of locations — California and Los Angeles County included — are experiencing surges in case numbers, so it is getting harder to get timely testing done,” Brewer said. “Even if someone could get a test done, they may not get a result for four days, five days [or even] a week.”
The current recommendation of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and here in Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, is we do not test asymptomatic individuals who essentially want to be tested for the sole purpose of having a test result. And travel would fall into that category.
Kari Mollan, an advisor at Stellar Travel in Bellevue, Wash., had booked an Alaska fishing trip this month for Washington-based clients. Her clients arranged COVID-19 pretesting with their personal physician, but they later canceled the vacation due to worries about receiving results in under 72 hours. Mollan notes virtually everything she books these days comes with a “cancel for any reason” waiver.
“So, if for some reason a client tested positive and could not go on their trip, they are not on the hook for the entire amount of the purchase,” she said.
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Though it has not come up often, Mollan says she will not offer advice to clients about locations where they can receive a COVID-19 test.
“We have to be very, very careful on liability right now,” she said. “I’ll always say, ‘Call your own doctor, and see if they can fast-track it.’”
UCLA’s Brewer agrees with Mollan’s approach.
“That’s the advice I would give,” he said, noting people definitely should not misrepresent their reasons in order to be tested at a public site. “Talk to your healthcare provider to find out if it is possible to get a test and under what circumstances.”
Meanwhile, U.S. travelers considering a COVID-19 pretest to visit the Bahamas or in order to bypass Hawaii’s mandatory 14-day quarantine may need to rethink those options. Effective July 22, The Bahamas closed its borders to international flights and commercial vessels carrying U.S. passengers.
And at a July 13 press conference, Hawaii governor David Ige announced his decision to postpone the destination’s pretesting start date for transpacific travelers from Aug. 1 to Sept. 1, citing concerns about virus surges in visitor markets such as California, Arizona and Nevada.
It’s not like there’s a pool of swabs or chemical reagents sitting somewhere that’s just waiting for somebody to come buy them to then make more tests.
Ige acknowledged the recent increase in cases across the mainland would also make it more difficult for potential visitors to meet Hawaii’s 72-hour pretest plan requirements.
“More than a month ago, California was declaring that anybody who wanted a test could go into a testing center and get tested,” Ige said during the press conference. “Clearly, that situation has changed as they have seen their cases spike, [and it’s] similar in Texas and Arizona. So, we do know that the prevalence of the virus in any given community will impact the ability to get tested.”
Ige mentioned that his administration is currently in talks with a number of testing facilities and pharmacies across the U.S., “trying to build a broad network of locations that will administer the test.”
Hawaii Lieutenant Governor Josh Green said during a press conference earlier this summer that the state was speaking with CVS Health about administering COVID-19 testing for travelers to the Islands. On July 13, Ige said that he planned to make an official announcement about a pretesting partnership soon.
But Brewer indicated Hawaii may have a difficult time finalizing terms of any pretesting pact because the surge in cases across the U.S. has maxed out the nation’s capacity to create virus testing supplies.
“It’s not like there’s a pool of swabs or chemical reagents sitting somewhere that’s just waiting for somebody to come buy them to then make more tests,” Brewer said. “Even if CVS said to Hawaii, ‘Yeah, we’d love to do this with you,’ I’m not sure CVS could necessarily get the reagents and the supplies because they are competing with every hospital in the country, every healthcare system, every state public health department. All of these agencies and organizations right now are all trying to get the same thing.”