The Miami Herald and McClatchy DC reported that President Joe Biden’s administration has started looking into domestic travel restrictions thanks to the COVID-19 mutation:

Outbreaks of the new variants — including a highly contagious one first identified in the United Kingdom, as well as others from South Africa and Brazil that scientists worry can evade existing vaccines — have lent urgency to a review of potential travel restrictions within the United States, one federal official said.

“There are active conversations about what could help mitigate spread here, but we have to follow the data and what’s going to work. We did this with South Africa, we did this with Brazil, because we got clear guidance,” one White House official said.

“But we’re having conversations about anything that would help mitigate spread,” the official said, referring to discussions about new travel restrictions that could target the spread of the U.K. mutation in Florida.

This unnamed official also said that the White House does not have an announcement ready to go:

Two federal government officials underscored that no policy announcements are imminent, and that any move to restrict travel or impose new health measures would be taken in partnership with state and local governments.

“No decisions have been made, but we certainly are having conversations across government,” the White House official said, pointing to current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encouraging Americans to stay home and only travel for essential reasons.

“This is a war and we’re at battle with the virus. War is messy and unpredictable, and all options are on the table,” the White House official said.

I wonder if this will spur more bills from Republicans.

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) introduced a bill to bar Biden from implementing a COVID-19 testing rule.

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg told Axios the administration has an “active conversation” with the CDC about requiring a negative COVID-19 test before flying.

The CDC already decided people needed a negative test for international flights.

Biggs said this would kill the airline industry, which is already hurting:

“It is outrageous that the Biden administration is contemplating new regulations or guidelines to require passengers to undergo COVID-19 testing before domestic air travel,” Biggs said. “This is another unscientific, bureaucratic action designed to control Americans’ lives and increase dependence on government. Further, such a mandate would devastate the airline industry and destroy massive sectors of our recovering economy.”

“I fly domestically regularly each month, and I observe the efforts of the airlines to make each passenger safe,” the Arizona representative said. “The Biden administration should listen to the airline executives and heed the science of healthy air travel. This misguided idea should not become implemented policy under any circumstances.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has kept Florida open during the pandemic. People try to tear him down, but Florida has not seen anything like New York or California.

It’s not a shock to me that they’re targeting Florida. You know they’re using the mutation as an excuse to try to ruin the good DeSantis did for his state.

DeSantis’s spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice said he “opposes travel restrictions and does not believe diagnostic tests should be a prerequisite to domestic air travel.”

But would the restrictions work? One public health expert said it could be too late:

Whether travel restrictions will be effective as an intervention is unclear and implementing them now could amount to “closing the barn door once the horse is out,” said Robert Bednarczyk, a public health expert and assistant professor at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health.

He noted that the B.1.1.7 variant has already spread to 34 states, even if it is more concentrated in places like Florida and California.

“With only a small fraction of samples tested for specific mutations, this is likely underestimating the amount of spread,” Bednarczyk said. “In addition to what we’ve been asking of the population — masks, distancing, avoiding large gatherings — I think people should consider avoiding travel, especially to tourist destinations where there’s a greater chance of disease spread to individuals who can take it to more places.”

An infectious disease expert disagrees:

But even if it’s too late to halt the spread of the variant, a travel restriction could at least slow its exportation, said Stephen Kissler, an immunology and infectious disease expert with Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Kissler said that the arrival of COVID vaccines has given public health officials added incentive to impose travel restrictions, even if they would only slow the spread of the variant, because it gives them a longer window to get people protected from the virus before they are infected.

“Right now we’re in a race with the virus trying to get people vaccinated as quickly as possible, and B.1.1.7 is one of the most serious threats to that,” he said.


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