Michelle Fishman calls it “the worst case scenario you don’t really think about.”
After a three-week vacation in Greece, the 52-year-old hotel art consultant from Miami and her husband underwent the necessary coronavirus tests to fly home from abroad. She tested positive, he didn’t.
Although coronavirus travel restrictions have been relaxed in many parts of the world, the United States still requires all international air passengers to present a negative test taken within the day before departure. And according to guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ms. Fishman should have isolated and delayed travel for 10 days, but she said she had to get home earlier to officiate a wedding.
Instead, he took advantage of a quirk in the rules to return home after five days (the mandatory self-isolation period required by the Greek government) through a “back door” – crossing into the United States by land, which does not require a coronavirus. test, instead of by air. Because Canada does not require a test to enter, the couple first flew to Toronto, and after spending a night there, Ms. Fishman and her husband crossed the border into Buffalo and caught a flight home. (There are no test requirements for domestic flights.)
“I had zero symptoms, no fever, nothing. I felt fine and when you’re in the United States, the CDC says you can end isolation five days after you test positive, so the same rules should apply when I’m traveling,” said Ms. Fishman. “It doesn’t make sense that I can go to a wedding five days after a positive test in Miami, but if I catch the virus when I’m on vacation I can’t fly home. That should be illegal.”
It’s unclear how many infected people are using clandestine routes to get home, which may also include flying into Mexico and using a land crossing there, because airlines don’t require passengers to provide reasons for canceling or changing flights. But strong anecdotal evidence indicates that some travelers, and travel advisors, are sharing tips on how to avoid getting stuck.
Flying to Toronto, Ms. Fishman said she was following the guidance of a family friend who used a similar backdoor route to get to her home in Boston when she tested positive in France in April.
Asked if she was worried 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 guidance for people contracting the virus in the United States. States, which says that Asymptomatic people or those with symptoms that have resolved within the five-day isolation period can leave their homes. The recommendation is based on science that most coronavirus transmission occurs early in the disease course, the CDC said.
“I slept in the same bed as my husband for five nights and he didn’t get it, so I don’t think I was contagious when I took the flight home,” Fishman said. “I wore a mask the whole time.”
The CDC did not say why it has different policies for Americans who test positive at home and abroad, but an agency spokeswoman reiterated that travelers should follow the 10-day guideline not to travel before boarding a flight to the United States. USA. even if they test negative. The Department of Homeland Security declined to comment on the possibility of travelers using land borders to circumvent the test requirement to travel by air.
The United States introduced the testing requirement in January 2021, when fewer than 10 percent of Americans were vaccinated and cases of new infections and hospitalizations were reaching record levels. 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 dropped, arguing that it does little to prevent new strains of the virus from spreading in the United States. . state
“The existence of these solutions highlights the absurdity of the current inbound testing policy that is nothing short of ineffective,” said Erika Richter, vice president of communications for the American Society of Travel Advisors, a trade organization. “We’re not following the science.”
David Freedman, president-elect of the American Society for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, is concerned about travelers using this method and warns that infected people taking a flight or public transportation to a border crossing will put many people who are not up to date. . -date your shots at risk, including at airport restaurants and other places on the road.
“From a public health point of view, the infectious person may be a carrier of one of the new BA variants. 4 or BA. 5, which is more infectious and not yet as common in the United States,” he said. “New improved vaccines may be available by the fall and introducing these variants sooner rather than later may be bad.”
After testing positive in Stockholm in early April, an American traveler and her wife decided to return to Seattle via Vancouver, because a US-Canada border crossing was relatively close to their home. If he was required to take a test upon arrival at the Vancouver airport, he said, he planned to drive home and isolate himself there. The woman asked her to speak anonymously, because she was afraid of negative repercussions.
“We had symptoms for about two weeks before testing positive. At the time we tested positive, we felt very well, with hardly any symptoms, so we felt safe to travel,” he said. “Vancouver airport is pretty quiet and low-key. If you look healthy, determined and calm, no one will pick you out of the crowd.”
Upon arrival, Canadian officials often ask questions about the health of passengers, and some airports, such as those in Toronto and Vancouver, may randomly select some passengers to undergo coronavirus testing before being cleared to leave the airport. airport.
Canadian authorities are warning infected people not to attempt to transit through Canada, saying they are not allowed to board flights into the country if they have symptoms of Covid-19 or have become infected within 10 days of leaving. Before arriving in Canada, travelers must complete a travel and health form on the ArriveCAN app. The form contains a series of questions, including vaccination status and whether a passenger has symptoms of coronavirus.
“All travelers arriving in Canada are required by Canadian law to answer all questions truthfully,” said Rebecca Purdy, senior spokeswoman for the Canada Border Services Agency.
“Travellers who knowingly travel to Canada with an active COVID-19 infection and fail to disclose this information may face penalties and/or criminal charges and may also be denied entry and/or prohibited from returning to Canada. foreigners,” Ms. Purdy said. she said she.
Mexican authorities did not respond to requests for comment. American travelers can enter Mexico without testing or quarantine, although they may be subject to health screenings upon arrival.
Despite the cost of last-minute bookings, people are also using backdoor routes preemptively, to ensure they can travel 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 the potential headaches involved, he never got tested, instead canceling his return flight to Los Angeles for a flight to Tijuana, Mexico, with stops in London and Mexico City. She then crossed the land border into San Diego and drove home. The changes to her itinerary cost her more than $2,000.
“Everyone around me had covid and I knew with my luck that if I got tested, I would come out positive and I didn’t want to risk it,” said Aranda, who wore a mask on his flights. “Looking back, it was a bit of a crazy decision and a lot of effort, but I had to get back to my life and my children.”
Some travelers who are more risk-averse but still determined to avoid isolation in another country have been using telemedicine services like Quick MD to obtain “recovery documentation” that allows them 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 initial positive test or symptom onset, as it can take weeks or even months before some people test negative.
During the phone or video consultation with a licensed medical professional to authorize travel, some travelers have been lying about the date their symptoms started in order to return home without completing the 10-day isolation period.
“It was a three-minute consultation and I told the doctor my symptoms started earlier,” said one traveler, who asked to speak anonymously for fear of getting in trouble with authorities. He had tested positive in London a day before his scheduled flight back to New York, he said, but returned home three days later.
“I got my authorization document in an hour, it was very easy,” he said.
Quick MD did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Ms Fishman returned home in time for the wedding and never developed symptoms of covid-19, although she said she felt exhausted, which she blamed on the stress caused by the ordeal of trying to get back on time.
“My chances of getting COVID in Miami are just as high as getting it while traveling, so the test requirement is useless in my opinion,” he said.
Travelers contemplating a similar route should be warned that they may be trapped. Ms. Purdy, of the Canadian border services, pointed out that violating the instructions when entering Canada could result in up to six months in prison, 750,000 Canadian dollars in fines (about $586,000) or both.