CDC says airlines may request waivers to new testing order 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Spokesman Jason McDonald said yesterday airlines and aircraft operators may request waivers to a new CDC order that requires all travelers into the United States to have a negative COVID-19 test.

On Wednesday, Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D’Aguilar said the government is “fighting like hell” for an exemption to the test requirement.

The Nassau Guardian asked the CDC whether it will exempt countries from that requirement.

McDonald replied, “Airlines or other aircraft operators request the waivers.

“The waivers are granted based on CDC’s determination that a country lacks sufficient SARS-CoV-2 testing capacity — granted specific waivers from the application of the international testing order are based on CDC’s determination that a foreign country lacks available SARS-CoV-2 testing capacity.

“The waivers are limited to 14 days in length unless renewed by CDC.”

McDonald did not respond to questions about what the CDC considers to be sufficient testing capacity for a country.

Meanwhile, local laboratories facilitating COVID-19 testing are preparing for increased demand as a result of the new CDC requirement.

Doctors Hospital Chief Executive Officer Charles Sealy said on Wednesday that with two testing centers, each with the capacity to carry out up to 600 tests daily, the hospital should be able to accommodate the increased demand from individuals looking to travel to the US.

“The good thing about it is, based on the information that we get from the government, we can always pivot and create additional testing sites and locations to assist with any backlog that may be created,” Sealy said.

“We’ve had the opportunity to increase capacity around the island with sites at our Blake Road campus and at Town Centre Mall. So, at those sites, we’re able to do up to 600 tests a day each, and that’s more than meets the demand currently.

“We, of course, have three machines that can do batch testing and that can do individual testing as well. So, we feel very comfortable that we are prepared, both for what currently exists and should the demand increase, we believe that we can meet it.”

Bonaventia Culmer, owner of Bonaventure Medical Laboratory, said the lab carries out hundreds of COVID-19 tests daily. She expects that number to jump to the thousands when the CDC’s new requirement takes effect.

The CDC announced on Tuesday that as of January 26, air passengers are required to get a viral test, defined as a viral detection test for current infection (i.e., a nucleic acid amplification test or a viral antigen test), within the three days before their flight to the US departs, and provide written documentation of their laboratory test result (paper or electronic copy) to the airline or provide documentation of having recovered from COVID-19.

While RT-PCR tests are not widely available on many Family Islands, D’Aguilar said rapid antigen testing can be done with a few adjustments to the existing system.

He said travelers to the United states should not be concerned, but noted that the Department of Public Health needs to move quicker than it has been to make the necessary adjustments to accommodate more antigen testing, particularly on some Family Islands where the tests are only available at government facilities.

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Jasper Ward

Jasper Ward started at The Nassau Guardian in September 2018. Ward covers a wide range of national and social issues. Education: Goldsmiths, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice

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