Many Caribbean nations have already adopted the notion of health passports, and several European countries are strongly considering these. Boiled down to the essentials, this means that to enter the country, you have to present proof that you tested Negative for Covid-19 within the past 48 or 72 hours. If you haven’t been able to be tested before arriving at the airport, they will test you immediately outside the terminal so as not to endanger the people within.
They can use a test where you spit into a test tube or take scrapings from inside your mouth. The results can be returned to you within an hour, before you leave the testing area. By returning your passport and test results simultaneously, they could assure compliance with contact tracing procedures… if you test Positive. In this case, you will not be permitted to board the flight but will be referred to a facility for treatment or for a 14-day quarantine.
When you combine the fact that everyone on the plane (including crew members) will have Negative test results, along with some other relatively simple strategies such as everyone wearing masks, selling only half the seats, boarding from the rear, and having attendants clean the restrooms after every use; you have a formula for safety that 95% of the flying public accepts as “safe.” As the number of “Positives” showing up for scheduled flights approaches zero, some of these safeguards can be loosened up.
Until recently, this strategy wasn’t feasible because of time and cost constraints. Labs had to use expensive machines that required skilled personnel to operate them, and the “quick tests” often required a nurse or skilled technician to shove a nasal swab far up your nose. Now, however, everything is changing. The retail cost of some of the simpler test kits has fallen to about $18, and the tests are available in bulk quantities for much less.
At least some of the costs of administering the tests can be carved out of the Homeland Security budgets for screening passengers, since Covid-19 presents a much more imminent threat. The remainder of the costs could be covered by a small fee that would be added to airline ticket prices or absorbed by Public Health agencies.
All results would be reported immediately by the testing facility to public health authorities, as well as the client. If a person tests Positive, passports would be returned when the subject facilitates the contact tracking procedures, as well as them seeking treatment or completing the quarantine and testing Negatively.
A team led by Beaumont Health researchers, Laura Lamb, Ph.D., and Michael Chancellor, M.D at the Aikens Research Center at Beaumont Research Institute in Michigan, has developed a new test to detect COVID-19 via urine, blood, salvia or a mouth-swab sample in just 30-45 minutes.
Even more importantly, the tests don’t require a special machine. Chemicals are added to the test tube being tested, the tubes are placed in a simple waterbirth that increases the temperature to about 100 degrees, and within a few minutes the test tubes change color.
“We need more testing options if we’re going to stage a successful public health response to COVID-19,” Dr. Lamb explained. “This is a rapid test that does not require expensive machinery to run, and the materials for it are relatively inexpensive. The more options we have for testing, the better.”
Dr. Lamb went on to say the test “could be used for screening at the point of risk such as nursing homes, long-term care facilities, cruise ships, naval ships, within the school and prison systems, and by large employers; for example, at an Amazon warehouse or meat packing plant.” Adding, “Because this is an existing test, we are optimistic with the right resources, it could be ready for widespread use within a month or so.”
The test is available so quickly because it’s based on an earlier test for the Zika virus that was developed two years ago. When Covid-19 came along, the test was modified and repurposed.
At first, health passports may have to be renewed by submitting a new test whenever a person flies. Later, when almost everyone is testing Negative, the follow-on tests could be administered randomly to a sample of passengers and crew a few days before the flight. In this case, everyone on the plane would have to be retested only if someone in the sample group tests Positive. If the system proves to work effectively, an up-to-date Health Passport could also be required for cruise lines, resorts, hotels, schools, and other kinds of facilities where people are in close contact with one another for extended periods of time.
This program would permit every airline passenger to feel they’re “flying safely.” Ticket sales would soar, and the revenues of cruise ships, resorts, hotels, and other businesses that serve the travel industry would not be far behind. Even more important, every traveler would know if they are infected and told what they need to do if this occurs. For every potential flier that would be scared away by these “strict” procedures, there would likely be a score of others who would welcome these measures to keep them safe.
Steven Frankel, Ed. D, is a Signature Travel Expert, a Trip Designer with Trip Advisor’s new $199 RECO consulting service, and the owner of Cruises & Cameras, LLC. He specializes in planning cruises on small ships. He and his wife have enjoyed 40 cruises on ships that carry fewer than 1300 guests. Having spent 13 years as a travel consultant, Dr. Frankel is also one of the first Travel Advisors to have successfully completed the Certificate Program, Epidemiology in Public Health Practice, taught remotely by the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University to thousands of health professionals around the globe. Steve looks forward to assisting both cruise guests and travel agencies on how best to deal with the realities of Covid-19. He’s the author of 13 books, the newest of which is How to Plan Your Next & BEST Cruise (Amazon, 2019).