Michelle Fishman calls it the “worst-case scenario that 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 coronavirus tests before departure, which are necessary to fly home from abroad. She tested positive, he didn’t.
Although travel restrictions for the coronavirus have been relaxed in many parts of the world, the United States still requires all international air passengers to submit a negative test within one day of departure. And according to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ms. Fishman should have isolated and postponed the trip for 10 days, but said she should go home earlier to conduct a wedding.
Instead, she took advantage of a quirk in the rules to go home after five days (the mandatory self-isolation period required by the Greek government) through a “back door” — overland to the United States, which doesn’t require a coronavirus test. , rather than through the air. Since Canada does not require a test to enter, the couple flew first to Toronto and, after spending the night there, Mrs. Fishman and her husband drove across the border to Buffalo and took a flight home. (There is no test requirement to fly domestically.)
“I had zero symptoms, no fever, nothing. I felt fine, and if you’re in the United States, the CDC says you can end isolation five days after a positive test, so the same rules should apply when I’m traveling,” Ms. Fishman said. “It makes no sense that I can go to a wedding five days after a positive test in Miami, but if I catch the virus while on vacation, I can’t fly home. That should be illegal.”
It’s not clear how many infected people use backdoor routes to get home, including flying into Mexico and using a land crossing there, because airlines don’t require passengers to give reasons for canceling or changing flights. But strong anecdotal evidence indicates that some travelers — and travel consultants — are sharing suggestions to avoid getting stuck.
When flying to Toronto, Ms. Fishman said she was following the guidance of a family friend who used a similar backdoor route to get home to Boston when he tested positive in France in April.
When asked if she was concerned about infecting other passengers on her long journey home from Greece (she tested positive again on her fifth day), Ms. Fishman pointed to the CDC’s guidelines for people who contract the virus in the United States, which says asymptomatic people or those with symptoms who have resolved within the five-day isolation period can leave their homes. The recommendation is based on the knowledge that the majority of coronavirus transmission occurs early in the course of the disease, the CDC said.
“I slept in the same bed as my husband for five nights and he didn’t catch it, so I don’t think I was contagious by the time I took the flight home,” Ms Fishman said. “I wore a mask all the time.”
The CDC didn’t say why it has a different policy for Americans who test positive at home and abroad, but an agency spokeswoman reiterated that travelers must follow the 10-day guideline not to travel before boarding a flight to the United States, even if they test negative. The Department of Homeland Security declined to comment on the possibility of travelers using land borders to bypass the air travel test requirement.
The United States introduced the testing requirement in January 2021, when less than 10 percent of Americans were vaccinated and the number of new infections and hospitalizations hit record highs. Now, with higher vaccination rates and less severe cases of the virus, many US travelers, as well as industry representatives, are calling for the requirement to be lifted, arguing that it does little to prevent new variants of the virus from spreading in the United States. States disperse States.
“The existence of these workarounds highlights the absurdity of current inbound testing policies that are downright ineffective,” said Erika Richter, vice president of communications at the American Society of Travel Advisors, a trade association. “We don’t follow science.”
David Freedman, president-elect of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, is concerned about travelers using this method and warns that contagious people taking a flight or public transportation to a border crossing can leave many people who don’t meet the date on their passport. vaccinations at risk, including in airport eateries and other places en route.
“From a public health point of view, the contagious person can carry one of the new variants of BA. 4 or BA. 5, which is more contagious and not as common in the US yet,” he said. “There may be new improved vaccines by the fall and introducing these variants sooner rather than later could be bad.”
After testing positive in Stockholm in early April, an American traveler and her wife decided to return to Seattle via Vancouver, as a US-Canada border crossing was relatively close to their home. If she had to take a test on arrival at the Vancouver airport, she said, she planned to drive home and seclude herself there. The woman asked to speak anonymously because she was afraid of negative repercussions.
“We had symptoms for about two weeks before we tested positive. By the time we actually tested positive, we felt great, with hardly any symptoms, so we felt confident to travel,” she said. “Vancouver airport is pretty chill and low-key. If you look healthy, determined and at ease, no one will pull you out of a crowd.”
Canadian officials often ask passengers health questions upon arrival, and some airports, such as those in Toronto and Vancouver, may randomly select a few passengers to undergo coronavirus testing before being allowed to leave the airport.
Canadian authorities are warning infected people against attempts to travel through Canada and say they will not be allowed to board flights to the country if they have Covid-19 symptoms or have become 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 has a number of questions, including vaccination status and whether a passenger has symptoms of the coronavirus.
“All travelers arriving in Canada are required by Canadian law to truthfully answer all questions,” said Rebecca Purdy, a senior spokeswoman for the Canada Border Services Agency.
“Travelers knowingly traveling to Canada with an active Covid-19 infection and failing to disclose this information could face sanctions and/or criminal charges and foreigners could also be banned and/or banned from entering Canada” , says Mrs. Purdy. said.
Mexican authorities have not returned requests for comment. U.S. travelers are allowed to enter Mexico without testing or quarantine, although they may be subject to health screenings upon arrival.
Despite the cost of last-minute bookings, the backdoor routes are also used preemptively by people to ensure they can get home on time.
Hilary Aranda, 39, a 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, she never took a test, but canceled her flight home to Los Angeles for a flight to Tijuana, Mexico, with stops in London and Mexico City. Then she crossed the border into San Diego and drove home. The changes to her travel schedule have netted her over $2,000.
“Everyone around me had Covid and I was lucky enough to know that if I took the test it would come out positive and I didn’t want to take the risk,” said Ms Aranda, who wore a mask on her flights. “In retrospect, it was a bit of a crazy decision and a big grind, but I had to get back to my life and kids.”
Some travelers who are more risk averse but still determined to avoid isolation in another country are using telemedicine services like Quick MD to obtain “documentation of recovery” that will allow people to travel to the United States without having to show a negative test. The option is available to travelers who continue to test positive 10 days after their first positive test or the onset of symptoms, as it can take weeks or even months for some people to test negative.
During the video or telephone consultation with a medical professional qualified to authorize travel, some travelers lied about the date their symptoms started so that they could return home without having to go through the 10-day isolation period.
“It was a three-minute consultation and I just told the doctor that my symptoms started earlier than they did,” said one traveler, who wanted to speak anonymously for fear of getting into trouble with authorities. He had tested positive in London a day before his scheduled flight to New York, he said, but returned home three days later.
“I got my approval document within an hour, it was so easy,” he said.
Quick MD did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Ms Fishman was home in time for the wedding and never developed Covid-19 symptoms, although she said she was feeling exhausted, blaming the stress caused by the ordeal of getting back in time.
“My chances of catching Covid in Miami are as great as catching it while I travel, so the testing requirement is useless in my opinion,” she said.
Travelers considering a similar route should be warned that they could be caught. Ms. Purdy, of the Canadian Border Patrol, noted that violating instructions when entering Canada could result in up to six months in prison, CAD 750,000 in fines (about $586,000), or both.