White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients caused quite a stir on Monday when he announced the latest US travel guidelines. Come early November, all foreign adult travellers need to be fully vaccinated to enter the USA by air. The new policy doesn’t apply to land crossings.
Here are five things to know about the new policy and how it affects Trinbagonian travellers:
Which vaccines will be accepted?
That’s the question everyone is asking but right now we don’t know. The White House says they will let the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) decide which vaccines make the list. The US is currently using three different vaccines – Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Johnson & Johnson. Of those three, two are available in T&T at the moment. The AstraZeneca vaccine is considered to be one of the workhorse vaccines as it has been used extensively in Europe and all over the world so there’s a strong possibility that it will make the list. The CDC can choose to allow all WHO-approved vaccines, or they can stick with only the US-approved vaccines. My advice is if you’re going to get vaccinated now, specifically to be able to travel to the US, then ask for either the J&J shot or Pfizer. The Ministry of Health has made 50,000 more Pfizer shots available for adults, so supply is not an issue.
Are vaccination cards required?
A vaccination card will be required to show proof of vaccination. While the CDC will determine what the definition of “fully vaccinated” is, the general rule of thumb is that you’re considered to be fully vaccinated two weeks after your second dose. If you took the J&J vaccine, which is a one-shot vaccine, then it’s two weeks after that shot. The only vaccination card accepted for international travel is the WHO International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICV). If you have a local Ministry of Health vaccination card (those are the black and white ones) then you will need to get it switched over at your local County Medical Officers of Health. Locations are listed on the Ministry of Health website. You will need a valid travel itinerary and the process takes 3-5 working days. Note that you can enter T&T with your local vaccination card, however, the ICV card is required for international travel.
There are several mobile apps that work as digital vaccine passports, but for now, there is not a federal digital solution in the United States.
Will quarantine be mandatory?
No. Unless you hold an American passport, you will not be required to quarantine upon arrival in the United States. Keep in mind, however, that there may be quarantine regulations depending on the state that you are travelling to so be sure to research your destination well.
Will tests still be required?
Yes, you will still be required to take a pre-departure COVID-19 test within three days of your flight, and be able to show proof of a negative result before boarding. Important to note is that the CDC does not specifically say 72 hours before your flight. According to the CDC, this is to provide more flexibility to travellers. Test validity does not depend on the time of the flight or the time of day that the test was administered. For example, if your flight is at 2 pm on a Saturday, you could board with a negative test that was taken any time on the prior Wednesday or after. This testing requirement is in place for any person two years or older.
Travellers who have had COVID-19 can provide proof of recovery in the form of a letter from a licensed health-care provider clearing the passenger for travel.
RT-PCR tests and antigen tests are available here in T&T, starting at $900 and $350 respectively.
Will contact tracing will be required?
All airlines will be required to collect the personal information of every passenger and hold it for 30 days. This is in case a passenger is exposed to someone with COVID-19 and they need to be notified. This means all US-inbound travellers will be required to provide info such as a working email address and a phone number. If you have one of those slightly embarrassing email addresses, consider changing it as the CDC can request that information from the airline. Nobody at the CDC wants to be sending an email to [email protected] to tell them that they have been exposed to COVID-19.