Considerations of Testing Before Traveling
In order to protect their jurisdictions against an influx of COVID-19, and with the holiday travel season approaching, many countries and states are requiring documentation of a negative test within 2-3 days of travel (usually 48 hours). While absolutely understandable and a good tool for border control and for the good of the destination community, in combination with other measures, this poses several challenges:
It can be challenging for travelers to get a test - and its result - within the required timeframe.
Tests are not available in all areas, and travel-related asymptomatic testing may not be covered by insurance.
Published turnaround times range greatly, from an hour to 5 days, and reality does not always match expectations. While UHS testing generally results in the eTang portal within 36-72 hours, exceptions do occur when confirmatory testing is required.
Testing is not infallible, and timing is critical.
- The rapid antigen tests are in general less sensitive and may be less specific than PCR tests, thus a NEGATIVE result is not as reassuring, and a POSITIVE result may stop your travel plans unnecessarily (although one should absolutely double-check with a PCR before assuming they are wrong).
- Testing too soon after exposure may be negative, and can provide a false sense of reassurance. While guidelines currently suggest you should not have a sigh of relief until 14 days have passed since contact with a case, testing at 7-10 days since the last contact is likely >90% reassuring. Definitely do NOT test before 5 days, it is too soon.
- And, even in the best-case scenario, no test is 100% accurate. Ever. If you are sick, don’t travel.
Some tests are difficult to interpret
- COVID-19 testing continues to evolve rapidly, and very little is known about true accuracy especially with testing of asymptomatic people; most are FDA approved only in those with symptoms.
- Interpretation of serological testing, in particular, remains unclear; a (+) antibody may or may not be protective, and the lack of one may not be significant.
Off-campus options for testing are expanding rapidly and changing all the time. Please look for some local options, by no means exhaustive* - and note this new testing site right next to the Oakland Airport.
*This is NOT a complete list, additional locations will be added as we become aware.
Specific Country/State Requirements*
Passengers bound for China via direct flights must take nucleic acid and IgM antibody tests at a testing institution in the U.S. within 48 hours before boarding.
Hawaii is requiring testing through specific labs
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