Epidemiologist says time isn’t right for travel’s restart

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Airplane and face mask
Photo Credit: Fotaro1965/Shutterstock

As destinations, particularly in the Caribbean, begin to reopen to tourism, some are requiring travelers to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test. It’s proving to be a hassle that deters travel

And that’s just as well, according to epidemiologist Debra Furr-Holden, associate dean for public health integration at Michigan State University. She said that because coronavirus is not under control in the United States, the country isn’t ready to resume travel.

“We are not ready, and all of the provisions that people are trying to put in place and these recommendations that are being made are not fueled by science or public health, they’re fueled by people’s desires to get back to business and get back to the lives they had before this,” she said. “And unfortunately, it’s premature. We’ve seen what happens as people increase contact with other people.

“I know people want to travel. I want to travel,” she added. “It’s just not wise right now. We don’t have enough information, and we don’t have the provisions in place to be able to do that safely.”

Based on her observations in local and statewide data, Furr-Holden said Covid-19 test results are taking anywhere from two days to several weeks. She said she believes what she is seeing in Michigan is consistent with the rest of the country.

Furr-Holden said increased testing is burdening the system nationwide, with essential and frontline workers getting top priority. That explains why many travelers can’t get a test result in the 72 hours before travel, which some destinations requiring.

Jack Lipton, professor and chair of Michigan State’s College of Human Medicine’s Department of Translational Neuroscience, questioned the efficacy of requiring negative tests before granting travelers entry into a destination.

“The test is only valid for the minute you take the test,” Lipton said. “So just because you got a test within three days of leaving doesn’t necessarily mean that the destination which is interested in you coming in disease-free is going to have any assurance of that.”

Lipton argued that travelers would be more likely to get infected on a plane, after they took the test.

Some destinations have rapid tests available for travelers when they arrive. But Lipton said Covid-19 tests won’t register infections until two to five days post-exposure at the earliest, meaning an infection contracted on the plane would not trigger a positive test result.

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