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White House Mandates COVID-19 Tests and Face Masks for Air Travel

White House Mandates COVID-19 Tests and Face Masks for Air Travel
Joe Cortez

True to his word, president Joe Biden has announced a new set of rules for international travelers arriving in the United States to help stop the spread of COVID-19. In addition to requiring the use of face coverings on public transportation, flyers will be required to provide a negative COVID-19 test and potentially self-quarantine.

Fulfilling a campaign promise, president Joe Biden has signed a sweeping mandate requiring airlines to take steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The executive order is one of the first of his administration, and requires testing for incoming passengers and face covering usage aboard all aircraft.

Rule Requires Face Coverings on All Transport, and COVID-19 Tests for International Flyers

Under the Trump administration, the U.S. Department of Transportation refused to issue any rule requiring airlines or other public carriers to adopt a face covering requirement. With the new executive order, passengers on airlines, trains, ferries, inter-city busses and all other forms of public transportation will be required to use a face covering for the duration of their trip. While the executive order falls short of announcing civil or criminal penalties for non-compliance, airlines have collectively banned over 2,700 passengers for not wearing a face covering and other disruptive behavior.

The new rules also extend to international travelers who intend to enter the United States. Within two weeks, flyers will be required to provide proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test upon arrival, along with complying with a recommended period of self-quarantine. The president has tasked multiple agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control, the Transportation Department, the Homeland Security Department and the Transportation Security Administration, to determine the necessary measures.

The new regulations are part of Biden’s national strategy for the COVID-19 response and pandemic preparedness, published by the White House on Jan. 21, 2021. The document outlines over 100 pages of response actions to stop the spread of the novel Coronavirus, including new requirements on airlines and passengers arriving from international destinations.

“Ensuring that people can safely travel will be critical for families and to jumpstarting the economy, which is why the President issued an executive order that requires mask-wearing on certain public modes of transportation and at ports of entry to the United States,” the guide reads. “For international air travel, Executive Order Promoting COVID-19 Safety in Domestic and International Travel requires a recent negative COVID-19 test result prior to departure and quarantine on arrival, consistent with CDC guidelines.”

New Rules May Follow Established COVID-19 Guidelines

Although the executive order did not establish the new protocols, it is expected to follow current requirements for international travel, along with guidelines from the CDC. As it stands today, Hawaii and other nations require tests to be taken within 72 hours of travel, while quarantines last for two weeks.

View Comments (29)


  1. Hawkeyefan

    January 21, 2021 at 6:13 pm

    atta boy maskguy. Doubledown on something that has zero effect on our situation. Tons of psychological and health negatives though. At any rate, whats new, already have to wear muzzles on airlines anyway.

  2. CharlotteYork

    January 21, 2021 at 7:40 pm

    Quarantine mandates when returning to the US from international travel will stop said travel dead in its tracks. Sorry, Mexico, Caribbean, Central America. Your tourist industries will be crushed even more than they are now.

  3. gojko88


    January 22, 2021 at 12:15 am

    “As it stands today, Hawaii and other nations require tests to be taken within 72 hours of travel, while quarantines last for two weeks.”

    It’s worth mentioning that in most countries, it’s one OR the other. Having a negative test and then quarantining for two weeks would be lunacy.

  4. rpaverd

    January 22, 2021 at 5:23 am

    Unfortunately, they have the focus wrong….!

    The airlines are doing an exceptional job of enforcing the mask policy, however no-one seems to be specifying the type of mask. Anyone can tie a piece of cloth around their face and it meets the airlines (or the new federal) requirements….

    As such, the vast majority of people wearing gaiter-style masks (normally single layer) or cloth masks are a danger to themselves and those around them. These types of masks were deemed adequate initially to prevent massive demand for surgical style masks or N95 medical respirator masks which were in extremely short supply at the beginning of the pandemic. Production of these has ramped up massively and almost all of the airlines seem to have a ready supply available at check-in and at the gates for passengers should they need one. They are freely available at low cost to anyone and everyone to purchase. And yet people insist on far less effective – and therefore dangerous to themselves and others – cloth masks…
    The federal mandate should specify the minimum standard as being the surgical mask for all travel.

  5. cybdiver

    January 22, 2021 at 6:28 am

    If there are no fines or penalties then what someone yells at you “Put on your mask or else!” it’s nice we finally have protocols now how do we get certain people to follow them?

  6. wrfrhiannon

    January 22, 2021 at 7:08 am

    The holiday COVID spike is already showing a decrease in cases in 46 states (Internal Medicine Daily Brief; Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine; 22 Jan 2021; “ 7 day average has decreased 20% from a week ago”; ) The new administration can take credit after being in office only 1 and 1/2 days. The new measures are already working before even being implemented. You have to admit that is impressive. I am sure the Honduran caravan marching toward our border will all have negative tests in hand when they cross.

  7. MRM

    January 22, 2021 at 7:30 am

    My guess is that the No-Brains, er, No-Fly List will grow for a little while IF airlines actually start enforcing the Disruptive Passenger rules in place. If enforcement is direct and fair, people will get over the “muh rights” thing pretty quickly when the fines start totaling up (and hopefully names are released publicly). If the airlines pussyfoot around the issue then it won’t – AND people who DO follow the rules will stop flying because they’ll get sick of the idiots that can’t behave.

  8. PDog

    January 22, 2021 at 7:45 am

    In Hawai’i the quarantine is 10 days.

  9. PDog

    January 22, 2021 at 7:47 am

    I will add that there is *no* quarantine if you tested negative before departure. It is spelled out on the Safe Travels Hawaiʻi site.

  10. taffygrrl

    January 22, 2021 at 10:40 am

    New Zealand and Australia mandate quarantine no matter what your test results are. Lots of people who tested negative before flying come up positive in quarantine. Those countries are doing pretty well in comparison to the US, so this seems sensible.

    However, even in NZ where people are generally rules-compliant, people did not stay in quarantine until it was enforced. So we’ll see how that part goes in the US. Giving people something like the Aus/NZ option (stay in a swanky hotel for 14 days while someone brings you nice meals) would probably help.

  11. Orange County Commuter

    January 22, 2021 at 1:26 pm

    So I can get on a plane and go to Florida or California and come home, no testing, no quarantine.

    But if I go to Mexico or the Caribbean, I have to test and quarantine.

    Yeah, COVID is only spread by international travelers. (And if you believe that I have some great investment opportunities sent to me by an foreign prince!)

    Masking should be required everywhere but the rest of this is window dressing. In typical US fashion if we can’t clean up our own mess we try to “blame it on another country”

  12. htb

    January 22, 2021 at 5:07 pm

    Korea and Singapore also require a negative test plus quarantine. Germany requires a negative test when arriving from extremely high risk counties plus quarantine, and only quarantine plus a test after arrival for high risk countries.
    You can’t talk Corona out of existence.

  13. deadmoneywalking

    January 22, 2021 at 10:28 pm


    There is not much evidence of covid spreading through substandard masks. To my knowledge all of the “super spreader” events identified were maskless gatherings.

  14. MEaton

    January 23, 2021 at 10:13 am

    What is the White House doing about the thousands of Hondurans, El Salvadorans, Guatemalans & Mexicans marching to the Wall openings right now? If the policy is “Not to Detain”, then these “Undocumented Guests” will be traveling to all 50 states. Are we assuming not a single one is COVID positive. This is what can only be described as a Super Spreader situation… Airlines are not the only way to enter this country. We are closing our windows but leaving the back door wide open…

  15. Hawkeyefan

    January 23, 2021 at 10:25 am

    What conjecture, stating there is ‘not much evidence of spread thru substandard masks’. ??? People wearing masks are the ones GETTING the virus is higher numbers. BECAUSE THE MASKS ARE, GASP!, SUBSTANDARD! All this stuff people are wearing amounts to bunk. Yet we keep doubling down.

  16. Churnman

    January 23, 2021 at 1:25 pm

    If people coming from other nations don’t have a negative tests, aren’t they now able to just cross the Mexican/U.S. border? Now that ICE has been told to simply release illegals it seems to be the easiest way for any “tourist” to get into this borderless country without having a negative test. And, pick the right state, like CA and get free healthcare just in case you have COVID. Also, since some states don’t care about ID you can vote too. What an amazing country! Can you imagine Switzerland like that? It does seem like certain methods to come into the country are lacking COVID regulations because the enforcers have been instructed to not do their jobs. I’m independent, pro-immigration, but I also realize if a nation wants to be a nation and have order and protection then it must have enforceable borders. If this administration is going to be “tough” on certain ways people enter this nation because they want to appear to be protecting citizens from COVID spread, then make it for all ways people enter including the southern (southwest border). Seems the airline industry already had mask mandates without the government (mandate is meaningless) because the industry is smart enough to know we won’t fly if others don’t wear masks. Common sense.

  17. htb

    January 23, 2021 at 4:01 pm

    @Orange County Commuter: the idea is that you can do contact tracing within your own country much better. Contact tracing becomes much more difficult, if you bring in new spreaders from abroad. Of course, if contact tracing across state borders is a problem, travel across state borders should be restricted as well to get the situation under control.

  18. IMissThe747

    January 23, 2021 at 6:23 pm

    Taiwan requires a negative COVID-19 test before boarding an inbound plane, followed by 2 weeks of quarantine, followed by one more week of monitored ‘self-health management.’ Masks are de rigueur in most places, and required in many. Never needed a lockdown, never closed restaurants/bars, etc. Just wearing masks, efficient health care, contact tracing, and reasonable precautions. So far COVID-19 deaths remain in the single digits. So, there is a reasonable precedent for these measures.

  19. CharlotteYork

    January 23, 2021 at 8:49 pm

    I guess this means that the new administration is going to require the thousands of “migrants’ from Central America who will soon be at our southern border to present a negative covid test and then quarantine for ten days once they arrive in the US. Whew. What a relief! Everybody needs to do their part.

  20. sdsearch

    January 24, 2021 at 9:59 am


    While it’s true that there’ no evidence, it has yet to be determined whether mark types compare differently with the new “more virulent” strains such as the UK strain. It’s been said that transmissibility of the UK strain is 50% more than with the original Covid strain(s), but does that mean that substandard marks are 50% less effective against these more virulent strains or not? We don’t know yet. But of course it’s better to assume that with more virulent strains spreading, better masks MIGHT be more of a protection increase over lesser masks than they were with the original strain(s).

    However, IMHO there’s also another variable in masks that might be more relevant: Correct wearing. I don’t see in person that much around here in SoCal, but I see pictures on TV of a good fraction of people in some places (including lawmakers in Washington DC!) who wear their masks over their mouth it keeps falling off of their nose. A mask which isn’t worn properly (or the design of which makes it harder to wear it properly) could certainly be more prone to spread the disease than a mask which is easy to wear properly and which is worn properly.

  21. AJNEDC

    January 24, 2021 at 11:24 am

    People deliberately refuse to obey the rules, then get sick and then overload the medical systems. It’s a shame that these people cannot be identified, given a prescription for Advil and sent on their way. Most would have died, elevating the global intelligence level, surgeries would continue and life would not have come to a stand still. Win win all around and I would have been able to visit friends and family in other countries.

  22. closecover

    January 24, 2021 at 3:11 pm

    See how much better things are when you have a grown up in the White House leading the country?

  23. edgewood49

    January 24, 2021 at 4:37 pm

    No matter what is proposed or implemented someone is going to bitch. Remember back when this all started and there was a call from that administration to shut the borders people screamed ( NOT meant as a political statement, rather a point of information). What about the Canadian IT firm that proved through cell phone signals a huge influx of people from China in the early days of the outbreak with the majority landing in Seattle? If your going to shut the borders then shut them, if your going to single out a certain segment ok, but remember there are so many ways that someone can fly to another city then over here.

    At the end of the day the only way to effectively combat this is vaccination end of story with best estimate of 65% vaccinated to begin to see that.

    Just saying.

  24. Aloha1

    January 24, 2021 at 5:06 pm

    The Election is proving “the Law of Unintended Consequences”.

  25. skchin

    January 24, 2021 at 5:43 pm

    Nice, fewer people will fly to avoid the hassle or casual flyer forgetting the requirement and denied boarding.

  26. UncleDude

    January 25, 2021 at 8:00 am

    Still no mention of arrangements for US Residents who have had COVID Vaccine.Similar with WHO and virtually every other country.

  27. Fonsini

    January 25, 2021 at 12:29 pm

    So I prove I don’t have COVID but still can’t leave the house for 10 days ? What’s the point ??

  28. htb

    January 25, 2021 at 2:38 pm

    @Fonsini: there’s an incubation period of two weeks and sometimes apparently even longer. A negative test result doesn’t mean that you aren’t already infected and will develop and speak Covid 7 days later.
    The goal of quarantine and maybe a test at the end of three isolation period is to minimize the risk of transmission.

  29. pauli5500

    January 31, 2021 at 11:39 am

    So how about cruise passengers? We’d need to get a rapid test upon disembarkation from the ship and hope the line wasn’t too long and hope that we could make our flight.

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