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Domestic air passengers flying within the U.S. may soon be subject to COVID-related boarding requirements similar to those that already apply to international travelers.
A Congressional bill introduced Wednesday would require all domestic airline passengers to either be fully vaccinated, fully recovered from or have recently tested negative for COVID-19 before being allowed to board their flight.
International travelers entering the U.S. (including returning residents) are already required to provide a negative COVID-19 test or proof of past recovery from COVID-19 in order to enter the country, but domestic flyers currently aren't subject to such requirements. Their only health protection mandate is to wear a mask in airports and aboard planes.
Titled the 'U.S. Air Travel Public Safety Act', this proposed legislation was introduced by California Senator Dianne Feinstein and has received support from the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the American Public Health Association.
The approaching cold-weather season and rampancy of the highly contagious Delta variant make this a pressing point of concern. "We know that air travel during the 2020 holiday season contributed to last winter's devastating COVID-19 surge," Feinstein wrote in a press release. "We simply cannot allow that to happen again."
According to USA Today, various health experts have already expressed support for vaccine mandates for domestic flyers. The White House's medical advisor and the nation's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, expressed in a recent interview, "I would support that if you want to get on a plane and travel with other people that you should be vaccinated."
Barbara Alexander, president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America and professor of medicine and pathology at Duke University School of Medicine, said: Vaccination is a critical strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic, and vaccination requirements in multiple settings are an important mechanism to boost vaccination rates, prevent infections and hospitalizations, and save lives."
During a September briefing, when questioned about the Biden administration's stance on requiring vaccinations for domestic air travel, White House COVID-19 response team coordinator Jeff Zients said, "we're not taking any measures off the table". He also referred to the government's decision to double the fines for passengers who won't comply with the federal mask mandate aboard planes and other public forms of transportation.
Airlines and trade groups argue that vaccine and testing requirements would throw a monkey wrench into operations since airlines would be responsible for verifying the COVID-19 status of millions of flyers. In an interview with CBS This Morning at the end of August, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said such a move would, "bottleneck the domestic travel system."
In mid-September, the U.S. Travel Association issued a statement on the subject. "U.S. Travel has long maintained that there should be no mandatory vaccination requirement for domestic travel," said Tori Emerson Barnes, the organization's executive vice president of public affairs and policy. "Such a policy would have an unfair, negative impact on families with young children who are not yet eligible to get the vaccine."
Of course, all it would take to refute that argument is an exemption clause for children who aren't of an eligible age for vaccination, something which is already included in virtually every vaccine mandate that's been put into effect thus far.
Laurie Baratti is a San Diego-based journalist whose work has previously appeared in publications like TravelAge West, SPACE,...
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