The Centers for Disease Control announced a testing mandate Christmas Eve. Starting Sunday night, passengers from the U.K. must have a negative COVID-19 test within three days of boarding a flight to the United States.
More than 40- nations have blocked travelers from Britain entirely, but the new COVID-19 strain is already being detected in other countries. The variant is now the dominant coronavirus strain in the U.K.
"A couple months ago it was about 10% of cases, now it’s something like 60% of cases," said USF Health’s Dr. Michael Teng. "So it’s kinda starting to take over."
Initial studies suggest the new variant may spread more easily from person to person.
To help stop the spread, the CDC issued a rule requiring travelers arriving in the US from the UK to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test.
"I don’t know that you can say that those measures will entirely stop all risk of this virus from spreading because those tests are not infallible," said Dr. Allison Messina with Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. "You can test negative for a virus a day or two before you board a plane and then become sick afterward."
The new variant appeared in the U.K. three months ago, and experts say it is likely already spreading on our side of the pond.
"This variant is most likely here already," said Teng. "The only reason that we don’t know about it is because our surveillance for these newly arising variants in the U.S. is pathetic. It’s unbelievably bad."
The CDC only launched a national strain surveillance program in November to track emerging variants. Since the pandemic started, the U.S. has sequenced 51,000 virus samples, compared to 125,000 sequenced in the U.K.
"It’s really not if they mutate, it’s how much they mutate and whether those mutations cause the virus to be either more contagious or more virulent, you know, more harmful," Messina said.
So far, scientists in the U.K. see no evidence that infections by the variant cause more severe disease.
"The general public should not really be overly concerned about this strain," said Teng. "We have great measures to prevent increased transmissibility of a virus and that’s wear a face mask, wash your hands, stay physically distant from each other."
Currently, there are no direct flights from the U.K. to Tampa International Airport.
If you feel sick:
The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Email responses will be sent during call center hours.
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