The White House announced this morning via a fact sheet
posted on its website that the United States would strengthen testing protocols
for incoming international travelers, regardless of citizenship status, vaccination
status and regardless of the country of origin. Starting “early next week,”
according to the release, all international travelers will be required to
present proof of a negative test taken within one day of travel. The current requirement
designates a three-day testing window, which leaves a longer time-period for would-be
travelers to contract the virus prior to travel but without developing

The Biden administration also has extended through March 18
the federal mask mandate for air, rail and public transportation. The Transportation
Security Administration will continue its implementing orders through the same
date. The minimum fine for noncompliance is $500 and increases to $3,000 for
repeat offenders.

According to the U.S. Travel Association, federal officials were
considering the possibility of a seven-day quarantine period and post-arrival
testing requirement for international travelers, regardless of citizenship
status or vaccination status. The group said they pushed back on such proposals,
citing the devastating impact on the U.S. travel industry specifically, but
also on the broader U.S. economy. The group estimated the U.S. has lost $300
billion in export income since the start of the pandemic.

The omicron variant now detected in California was
discovered in a fully vaccinated individual who returned from South Africa on
Nov. 22 and tested positive for Covid-19 on Nov. 29. The variant has now been
identified in 29 countries globally, including South Africa where it was
originally sequenced as a variant, but also in the U.K. and several European
countries as well as a handful of Asia-Pacific nations like Australia, Hong
Kong and Japan.

In addition to new travel measures, the Biden administration
will roll out additional programs and campaigns to increase vaccination rates
across the U.S., including boosters, and providing “every resource” to
the Federal Drug Administration to expedite review of vaccines for children
under five years old, according to the release. It will also make testing more
available through local pharmacies and provide more free testing kits and
resources, including insurance reimbursement for over-the-counter testing kits.

President Biden, today, is expected to urge businesses to continue
with their vaccination and testing efforts. The White House claims that “60
percent of businesses report they are moving forward with implementing a
program to ensure their workers are either vaccinated or tested on a weekly
basis” roughly using the roadmap outlined by the Department of Labor’s Occupational
Safety and Health Administration. The release did not mention OSHA by name, as
25 states have sued the federal government for OSHA overreach over the
vaccination-or-test protocol it rolled out in early November.  The mandate is currently suspended as the lawsuits
are argued in court, though many businesses nevertheless have chosen to follow
through on the protocol.

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