President Joe Biden’s new COVID-19 plan for the winter includes tighter rules for travel and free at-home tests, he explained Thursday.
Biden was expected to announce his multi-step plan to combat COVID-19 this week, and the move comes as the new Omicron variant continues to spread across the U.S. One of the more notable changes is the stricter requirements for travelers entering the country. Now, anyone – regardless of vaccination status or citizenship – must take a COVID-19 test within one day of departing for the U.S.
“A month ago we announced requirements that foreign travelers must be vaccinated if entering the United States,” Biden said during remarks at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on Thursday. “This week, I announced an additional action to strengthen international travels to give us more time to stop the spread and study a new variant. It used to be that international travelers flying to the United States travel had to test negatively three days before their departure from that country.”
“Well, I’m announcing today that all inbound international travelers must test within one day of departure, regardless of their vaccination status or nationality. This type of testing timetable provides an added degree of protection as scientists continue to study the Omicron variant,” he continued.
This requirement will take effect for any flight departing after 12:01 a.m. ET on Monday, Dec. 6, according to CNN.
Biden also announced that the masking requirement for airplanes, trains and other forms of public transportation will be extended through March 18, 2022. Additionally, the president said that private health insurance companies now need to cover the cost of at-home tests, although details of this portion of the president’s plan are still being sorted out.
The Biden administration was reportedly considering even stricter requirements for travel, including a self-quarantine period for anyone, regardless of vaccination status. Ultimately, the president’s plan only included more stringent COVID-19 testing.
As the new Omicron variant spreads around the world, it’s still not yet known how evasive it may be to vaccines and how bad symptoms are. Biden has pushed for fully vaccinated Americans to get the booster and for unvaccinated individuals to get the shot amid the new variant. He reiterated this push on Thursday and touted the number of Americans already vaccinated against the coronavirus as well as the fact that the shot is now available for children aged five and older.
“We’re going to fight this variant with science and speed, not chaos and confusion,” Biden declared.
A senior administration official told reporters Wednesday evening that the tightened testing requirements are intended to “help catch more cases.” The official said “now is the right time to do it” and said the actions can be implemented “very quickly.” (RELATED: ‘The Choice Is Yours’: In Line With CDC’s Mask Guidance, Biden Gives Americans An Ultimatum On Vaccines)
Another portion of the president’s winter COVID-19 plan is a continued push towards having businesses follow his previously-announced rule of mandating vaccines for employees or testing weekly. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) suspended its enforcement and implementation of this rule earlier in December amid a court order, but the Biden administration has continued to urge businesses to comply.
“We’re asking businesses to step forward and do what’s right to protect our workers, our communities — to put in place some sort of vaccination requirement or testing requirements for the workplace,” a senior administration official told reporters.
Biden echoed this sentiment on Thursday, telling the nation that his “plan does not expand or add to those mandates” and commenting that the fight against COVID-19 should “unite us not continue to separate us.”