The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has launched a pilot program at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to enable near-real-time detection of new COVID-19 variants among travelers entering the United States.
Through a collaboration with XpresCheck COVID-19 testing company and Ginkgo Bioworks, the CDC pilot program establishes an enhanced voluntary COVID surveillance among international travelers arriving at SFO. The CDC is launching similar programs at JFK and Newark airports.
Dr. Cindy Friedman, Chief of CDC’s Travelers’ Health Branch, said the program will enable near-real-time detection of novel COVID-19 variant strains.
This pilot project, which is unrelated to existing testing orders or travel restrictions, will invite passengers to volunteer for two types of tests. The first is a “pooled” PCR test, meaning several passengers’ samples are combined and tested as a group and sequenced if positive. The second type of test involves providing passengers with an at-home specimen collection kit that passengers submit for an individual PCR test 3-5 days after arrival into the United States. This time frame is in line with CDC’s current recommendation that all travelers get tested 3-5 days after international travel. Positive results will also be sequenced. CDC will use the results for surveillance purposes. Travelers will be notified of their positive PCR results; those whose specimens were tested as a pool will be notified that someone in the pool tested positive and recommended to retest.
XpresCheck has the capacity to conduct testing in major airports where international travelers commonly arrive. Concentric by Gingko has experience in testing and sequencing for COVID-19 in many settings such as in schools.
All air passengers coming to the United States, including U.S. citizens and fully vaccinated people, are required to have a negative COVID-19 test result no more than three days before travel or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 in the past three months before they board a flight to the United States.