What it’s like to self-test for Covid on a flight home from abroad

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While dozens of American springs will soon descend on Florida hotspots like Daytona Beach and Panama City as well as other balmy American destinations, many will instead opt for fun in the sun in the foreign climes of Mexico and the Caribbean.

Once the party is over, however, these college-aged jet-setters – as well as anyone else over the age of 2 seeking to enter the US – will need to test negative for Covid-19 before boarding the flight home. . The rule, instituted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, went into effect Dec. 6 and there are no signs yet that it will be lifted anytime soon.

This means taking an approved Covid test for international travel no more than a day before departure for the United States – either at an overseas testing site or with a self-test kit you brought from home. – or submit proof of recovery from an infection within the last 90 days. The test performed must be a viral test (nucleic acid amplification test [NAAT] or antigen test) to determine if you have an active Covid infection. Details are available online at Travel.state.gov and CDC.gov.

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Airlines will deny boarding to anyone, US citizen or not, without a negative test result or proof of recovery, which likely means an unplanned and likely costly extended stay overseas. (There are rare instances where exceptions are made for compassionate reasons, but don’t count on just one.) It may be a good idea to invest in a travel insurance policy that covers unforeseen medical and travel expenses associated with Covid-19 infection and possible quarantine. abroad.

What’s the testing and travel experience – and cost – like? I recently returned to New York after a week in Mexico with no problems. I chose to self-test at my hotel in Puerto Vallarta, but there were other options available at the Pacific Coast resort, including at its international airport.

The Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board maintains a list of some 17 private medical facilities offering testing, including prices and turnaround times, at Visit puertovallarta.com/covid-19. Prices at the time of publication ranged from $33 for a same-day antigen test to $198 for a PCR test with results in 32 hours.

A temporary lab at Puerto Vallarta International Airport is offering pre-flight testing at departing international passenger prices of around $25 for an antigen test and $75 for a PCR test. The airport recommends arriving an extra hour early if testing just before check-in. Sixteen hotels are also offering to offer on-site testing in the city.

Before I left the United States at the start of my vacation, I had decided that I didn’t want to leave testing to chance once in Mexico. I had not been back to Puerto Vallarta since Covid emerged in late 2019 and was unsure about wait times and ease of access for testing.

Instead, I went online to purchase a telemedicine self-test kit approved for most international travel from eMed.com. Other online test kit retailers include Qured and Optum. (The CDC warns buyers of self-tests to check the laws of their foreign destination regarding the importation of such kits. Bringing them with you could be illegal. Also, make sure your destination hotel or other nearby private location offers an Internet connection.)

As I was planning more than one trip outside of the US this year, I purchased several Abbott BinaxNOW Covid-19 Ag Card home tests for $25 each online – what I would have paid at the airport in Mexico City .

What I saved was a bit of time: 24 hours before my flight home, I received a notification from my airline that I could check in online after submitting test results. Covid test negative. I turned on my laptop – the online self-test was not possible with a simple smartphone – I joined the hotel’s Wi-Fi network and logged into the eMed.com site. (I first had to create an account with Abbott’s Navica system, which offers online and mobile access to smartphones — Android and iPhone — to rapid antigen test results.)

Once logged into eMed.com, I was matched via live video stream with a technician who verified my identity and then walked me through opening the test kit and properly performing the supervised nasal swab test. . (At one point, I lost contact with the technician due to the hotel’s spotty WiFi, but she was still there when I reconnected to the network.)

A day can last 48 hours

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I was then put on hold for 15 minutes, after which a second technician came online to interpret and verify the test kit results. Within minutes the Navica app showed a negative test confirmation, which I was able to upload to another app, VeriFLY, which my airline used to check test status, after creating an account. VeriFLY reviewed and approved my results – again, within minutes – and my airline app allowed me to check in online.

The whole process took maybe 30 minutes and I never left the comfort of my hotel room. Clinical tests, with the exception of the mobile laboratory at the airport, would have required walking, taxi or bus travel, possibly a queue, then another wait of up to 36 hours to obtain the test results. (The CDC’s one-day, rather than 24-hour, testing rule means that passengers departing on a flight at 11:55 p.m. on Tuesday, for example, could technically test as early as 12 p.m. Monday, the day before, which is nearly 48 hour test window possible.)

At the Puerto Vallarta airport, I showed my VeriFLY mobile pass to an airport employee who was processing paper test results for an increasing number of departing passengers and was invited to the check-in counter. check in to check in my bag. The counter agent also checked my VeriFLY app and then took my luggage. And with that, I was on my way back.

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