If You're Flying Internationally, You'll Need This as of Monday, CDC Says

The new rule is aimed at controlling the spread of the Omicron variant within the U.S.

Traveling during the age of COVID has posed a unique set of challenges. The pandemic wrought a staffing shortage that is causing mass cancellations and delays among major airlines, plus long lines in airports. Then, there is the spike in incidents of violence in the air, with disgruntled passengers directing rage toward flight attendants tasked with enforcing federal mask mandates.

And then, of course, there is the possibility of virus transmission throughout crowded airports and airplane environments, especially as the busy travel season is expected to create peak demand—just as the Omicron variant is starting to spread around the U.S. and throughout the world. Read on to learn about the latest rule from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) designed to mitigate the spread of COVID.

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International air travelers to the U.S. must now show negative results from a COVID test taken within one day of flight departure.

Chicago, IL, USA - July 17, 2017: American Airlines fleet of airplanes at O'Hare Airport viewed from inside the airport terminal with passengers.

Late on Dec. 2, the CDC issued a new set of rules that will require international air travelers arriving in the United States to demonstrate proof of a negative COVID test taken within one day of departure.

This is a substantially shortened timeline from the previous set of rules, which mandated travelers landing in the U.S. show a negative COVID test taken within 72 hours (or three days) from the day of their flight departure, as long as they have also been vaccinated. (Travelers who aren't vaccinated currently must show a negative COVID test taken within one day of departure.) The new rules go into effect on Monday, Dec. 6 at 12:01 am ET.

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The CDC's new testing rules are aimed at controlling the spread of the Omicron variant.

Rochelle Walensky discusses COVID on Jan. 29 at White House press briefing
vasilis asvestas / Shutterstock

According to the language of the new mandate, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, says the emerging Omicron variant triggered the order. "To reduce the introduction and spread of our current and future SARS-COV-2 variants into the United States at a time when global air travel is increasing, CDC must take quick and targeted action to help curtail the introduction and spread of the omicron variant into the United States," the order reads.

Vaccination and citizenship status do not change the timeline requirement.

A middle-aged woman pulls down her face mask to receive a nasal swab for a COVID-19 test.

While previous orders have excluded vaccinated people or U.S. citizens, starting Monday, all international air travelers "regardless of vaccination status or country of origin" will be required to show a negative COVID test taken the day before they board their flight to the U.S. Exceptions are made for passengers who can present documentation of recovery. The order does not, however, require testing for travelers crossing into the U.S. from Canada or Mexico by way of land borders.

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Omicron has already been found in at least 38 countries across the globe.

A scientist completing a study in a lab looking into a microscope while wearing full protective gear

Per Reuters, the CDC hopes the shortened testing timeline will help the U.S. buy time as the new virus variant spreads in its early stages, and while little is known about its possible impact on public health and the operations of daily life around the globe. The variant has currently been found in at least 38 countries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), with the scope of the highly contagious strain expected to spread broadly even as scientists attempt to study the variant's many mutations and their effects.

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Alesandra Dubin
Alesandra Dubin is a lifestyle editor and writer based in Los Angeles. Read more
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