Incoming international passengers at four U.S. airports can now pick up a free at-home COVID-19 test under a program started by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Kits are available for travelers at Chicago O’Hare, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Miami, and Dallas-Fort Worth airports. Additional airports will be added in the near future.
The tests are meant to help incoming passengers comply with CDC recommendations to get a COVID-19 test 3 to 5 days after arriving in the country.
“This initiative will quickly increase access to post-arrival COVID-19 testing for international travelers arriving in the United States,” CDC spokesperson Caitlin Shockey told USA Today. “It is critical that travelers get tested 3-5 days after travel to help identify imported cases of COVID-19 and stop the spread of the virus.”
The CDC has not said how many kits will be available, but the goal is to get out as many and as quickly as possible.
New rules that took effect on December 6 require all people entering the United States to obtain a negative COVID-19 test within one day of travel. Previously, vaccinated passengers could present a test within 3 days of their departure, while unvaccinated passengers were under the 1-day rule.
The free at-home kit program is different than a separate CDC program operating at other U.S. airports. Passengers arriving at New York-Kennedy, San Francisco, Atlanta, and Newark, N.J., can elect to get a free post-travel test at the airport before heading out.
The program has been operating since late November in an effort to get ahead of holiday travel. The service is optional and operated jointly by the CDC, XpresCheck, and Ginkgo Bioworks, a testing manufacturer.
“Information about the Omicron variant is rapidly evolving,” Dr. Martin Cetron, a director at the CDC said in a statement. “We are actively working to scale up this collaborative post-arrival airport-based surveillance testing program to monitor for this new variant in arriving travelers.”
XpresSpa Group and Ginkgo Bioworks officials are focused on expanding the program as quickly as necessary.
“We stand ready to provide the biosecurity tools and expertise needed to give our public health leaders the weather map they need at this point in the pandemic,” said Matthew McKnight, Ginkgo Bioworks’ Chief Commercial Officer. “This collaboration with the incredible teams at XpresCheck and the CDC will provide critical information for passengers, for communities, and for national pandemic response.”
The seven-day average for daily COVID-19 cases in the United States is about 118,000 per day, up more than 8 percent over the previous week. Deaths, which recently surpassed 800,000 in the United States from coronavirus, are averaging more than 1,100 per day, nearly triple what they were in July.
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