How some people travel to the United States after positive Covid tests

Michelle Fishman calls it the “worst case scenario you don’t really think about”.

After a three-week vacation in Greece, the 52-year-old Miami hotel art consultant and her husband took the pre-departure coronavirus tests required to return home from overseas. She tested positive, he didn’t.

Although travel restrictions for the coronavirus have been eased in many parts of the world, the United States still is requires all international air passengers to submit a negative test taken within one day of departure. Other according to the guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionMs. Fishman was supposed to isolate and delay the trip by 10 days, but said she had to go home earlier to officiate a wedding.

Instead, he took advantage of an oddity in the rules to return home after five days (the mandatory self-isolation period required by the Greek government) via a “backdoor” – crossing into the United States by land, which does not require a coronavirus test, rather than by air. Since Canada does not require a test for entry, the couple flew to Toronto first, and after spending a night there, Ms. Fishman and her husband crossed the border into Buffalo and flew home. (No tests required for domestic flight.)

“I had no symptoms, no fever, nothing. I felt good and when you are in the US, the CDC says you can end isolation five days after testing positive, so the same rules should apply when I travel, “said Ms. Fishman.” It makes no sense that I I can go to a wedding five days after a positive test in Miami, but if I catch the virus when I’m on vacation I can’t go home. It should be illegal. “

It is unclear how many infected people are using backdoor routes to get home, which may also include flying to Mexico and using a ground passage there, because airlines do not require passengers to provide reasons for cancellation or modification of flights. But strong anecdotal evidence indicates that some travelers – and travel consultants – are sharing tips on how to avoid getting stuck.

Flying to Toronto, Ms. Fishman said she was following the lead of a family friend who used a similar route back home to Boston when he tested positive in France in April.

Asked if she was worried about infecting other passengers on her long journey back from Greece (she tested positive again on day five), Ms Fishman indicated the The CDC Guide for people who contract the virus in the United States, which states that asymptomatic people or those with symptoms that have resolved within the five-day isolation period can leave their homes. The recommendation is based on the science that most coronavirus transmission occurs early in the disease’s course, the CDC said.

“I slept in the same bed as my husband for five nights and he didn’t take it, so I don’t think I was contagious when I flew home,” said Ms. Fishman. “I was wearing a mask the whole time.”

The CDC did not explain why it has different policies in place for Americans who test positive at home and abroad, but a spokesperson for the agency reiterated that travelers should follow the 10-day guide not to travel before boarding. on a flight to the United States, even if they are negative. The Homeland Security Department declined to comment on the possibility of travelers using land borders to circumvent air travel testing requirements.

The United States introduced mandatory testing in January 2021, when fewer than 10 percent of Americans were vaccinated and cases of new infections and hospitalizations hit record highs. Now, with higher vaccination rates and less severe cases of the virus, many American travelers, as well as industry representatives, are calling for the obligation to be lifted, arguing that it does little to prevent the spread of new variants of the virus in the U.S. .

“The existence of these workarounds highlights the absurdity of the current inbound testing policy that is nothing short of ineffective,” said Erika Richter, vice president of communications at the American Society of Travel Advisors, a commercial organization. “We are not following the science.”

David Freedman, president-elect of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, is concerned about travelers using this method, warning that infectious people who take a flight or public transport to a border crossing will put many people who are not inside. ‘height. – Date on risk vaccinations, including in airport restaurants and other places along the route.

“From a public health perspective, the infected person could be a carrier of one of the new BA variants. 4 or BA. 5 which is more contagious and not yet as common in the US, “he said.” There may be new enhanced vaccines by the fall and introducing these variants sooner rather than later could be harmful. “

After testing positive in Stockholm in early April, an American traveler and his wife decided to return to Seattle via Vancouver, because a US-Canada border crossing was relatively close to their home. If she was required to take a test on arrival at Vancouver airport, she said, she intended to drive home and isolate herself there. The woman asked to speak anonymously because she feared negative repercussions.

“We had symptoms for about two weeks before testing positive. When we actually tested positive we felt great, with barely any symptoms, so we felt safe traveling, “she said.” Vancouver airport is pretty quiet and discreet. If you look healthy, determined and comfortable, no one will you. he will pull out of the crowd ”.

Upon arrival, Canadian officials often ask questions about passenger health, and some airports, such as those in Toronto and Vancouver, may randomly select certain passengers to undergo coronavirus tests before being allowed to leave the airport.

Canadian authorities warn infected people not to attempt to transit through Canada, saying they are not allowed to board flights into the country if they have symptoms of Covid-19 or if they have been infected within 10 days of their departure. Before arriving in Canada, travelers must complete a health and travel form on the ArriveCAN app. The form contains a number of questions, including vaccination status and whether a passenger has coronavirus symptoms.

“All travelers arriving in Canada are required by Canadian law to truthfully answer all questions,” said Rebecca Purdy, senior spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency.

“Travelers who knowingly travel to Canada with an active Covid-19 infection and who fail to disclose this information may be subject to penalties and / or criminal charges, and foreign nationals may also be denied entry and / or bans. to go back to Canada, ”Ms Purdy said.

Mexican authorities did not respond to requests for comment. US travelers can enter Mexico without testing or quarantine, although they may be subject to health screenings upon arrival.

Despite the cost of last-minute bookings, backdoor routes are also used by people as a preventative measure, to make sure they can get home on time.

Hilary Aranda, 39, user experience designer, had just finished a two-week dance tour in Italy when 12 Americans in her group tested positive. To avoid a positive result and possible headaches involved, she never took a test, but instead canceled her flight back to Los Angeles for a flight to Tijuana, Mexico, with a stopover in London and Mexico City. She then crossed the land border to San Diego and drove home. Her itinerary changes set her back more than $ 2,000.

“Everyone around me had Covid and I knew with my luck that if I took the test, it would test positive and I didn’t want to risk it,” said Ms. Aranda, who wore a mask on her flights. “Looking back, it was a crazy decision and a big deal, but I had to go back to my life and my children.”

Some travelers who are more risk averse but still determined to avoid isolation in another country have used telemedicine services like Quick MD to get “recovery documentation” which allows people to travel to the United States without having to show a negative test. The option is available for travelers who continue to test positive 10 days after the initial positive test or symptom onset, as it can take weeks or even months for some people to test negative.

During the video or telephone consultation with a licensed travel doctor, some travelers lied about the date their symptoms started so they could go home without having to complete the 10-day isolation period.

“It was a three-minute consultation and I just told the doctor my symptoms started before them,” said one traveler, who asked to speak anonymously for fear of having trouble with the authorities. He tested positive in London a day before his scheduled flight to New York, he said, but returned home three days later.

“I got my clearance document within the hour, it was that easy,” he said.

Quick MD did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Ms. Fishman returned home in time for the wedding and never developed symptoms of Covid-19, although she said she felt exhausted, which she attributed to the stress caused by the ordeal of trying to go back in time.

“My chances of contracting Covid in Miami are as high as those of catching it while traveling, so in my opinion the test requirement is useless,” he said.

Travelers contemplating such a route should be warned that they can be caught off guard. Ms. Purdy, of the Canadian Border Services, noted that violating Canada’s entry instructions could lead to six months in prison, a $ 750,000 Canadian fine (approximately $ 586,000), or both.