COVID-19 testing requirement lifted as cases climb across the country

International travelers don’t have to take a COVID-19 test to get into the U.S. starting Sunday, and the change comes as infections climb in states across the country and in Tampa Bay

The federal government announced Friday that it will not require a negative test for travelers coming into the country.

"It's a reasonable thing that you don't have to the test to come back into the United States now that we have very high levels of transmissions pretty much throughout the country," said Dr. Michael Teng, a virologist with USF Health in Tampa. "Some of my colleagues have gone to international conferences, and they're in countries with lower transmission rates. They have to test to get into a country with a higher transmission rate, which seems paradoxical."

Teng said COVID-19 infections are also rising in Tampa Bay and Florida. The Florida Department of Health’s COVID-19 report as of June 3 shows an uptick, but epidemiologists said the wave is not as sharp as the past two summers or winters.

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"This is a much more like a really slow swell, and what I think that is indicating is that the virus is now starting to have a hard time of in terms of going jumping from person to person," said Dr. Thomas Unnasch, a USF Health epidemiologist in Tampa.

The full picture of infections may be unclear. Tampa Bay scientists and doctors said more people are doing at-home tests or not testing at all.

"It’s a lot harder to determine these days what is the real situation," said Dr. Manuel Gordillo of Sarasota Memorial Hospital. "The numbers that we have are not as reliable as they used to be before when most people used to get a PCR test with the state, and the state would get reports. The reporting before was a lot better than it is now."

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There is one trend Sarasota Memorial Hospital doctors said they are seeing pick up.

"We are seeing a rise in hospitalizations in the past two weeks. We have seen cases coming in more," said Gordillo. 

He added that the hospitalizations are not as high as it has been earlier in the pandemic, and only 10 percent of the 67 people in the hospital as of Wednesday were in the ICU. Unnasch said the number of people in the hospital went up slightly in Hillsborough County, and it’s mostly the elderly. 

Public health experts said they don’t expect the virus to go away, so they recommend doing what works for your health this summer.

"There's no way of really avoiding it at this point in time, and so really what you have to do is rely on your own individual risk assessment," said Unnasch.  

With international travel, the American Hotel and Lodging Association said Friday’s decision is a win for the travel industry and will help with recovery over the summer.