Rapid tests and 5-day quarantines could help bring back air travel

Standardized coronavirus tests and shorter quarantine times could make air travel safer and easier as

Standardized coronavirus tests and shorter quarantine times could make air travel safer and easier as the pandemic continues, according to a new study by researchers at UCSF.

Airports that regularly use so-called PCR — polymerase chain reaction — or on-site rapid tests could detect nearly 90% of travelers who don’t show symptoms before they board aircraft, according to a large-scale computer simulation designed by the research team.

“We were surprised how little standardization there was with airlines and airports,” said Dr. Nathan Lo, infectious disease expert and senior author of the paper published Monday in the Lancet scientific journal. “Some places require testing. Some don’t. There is a lot of variation in what is recommended. We felt there was a gap for guidance to make sense of what is effective and what’s not.”

The study also suggests that a five-day quarantine after travel, lifted only with a negative test result, could effectively slow the geographic spread of COVID-19 attributed to travelers who exhibit no disease symptoms.

Without consistent industry-wide guidance to help airlines keep passengers safe, the Transportation Security Administration reported last week that it screened more than 1 million passengers per day, marking the busiest week of air travel since the pandemic began over a year ago.