The CDC just rewrote the US airport rules for COVID-19 travel

New rules concerning who can enter the US during the COVID-19 pandemic have been rolled out, with the CDC tearing up its old policy and replacing it with one that focuses less on coronavirus screening. The updated process kicks in on September 14, 2020, and will end enhanced entry health screening for passengers arriving in the US from countries with known COVID-19 hotspots.

Until now, the US government had been requiring all inbound flights from a fairly lengthy list of foreign countries to land at one of 15 designated airports. That meant passengers arriving from, or having had recent presence in, China (excluding the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau), Iran, the Schengen region of Europe, the United Kingdom (excluding overseas territories outside of Europe), Ireland, and Brazil.

Upon arrival, they'd need to go through what was referred to as enhanced entry health screening. That included taking temperature measurements with a non-contact thermometer, observation for any signs of respiratory illness such as coughing or troubled breathing, and a self-administered questionnaire that reviewed potential symptoms. It proved to be a time-consuming and disruptive process, with long lines at the participating airports even with numbers of travelers plummeting during the pandemic.

Now that's all changing. As of mid-September, there'll be no requirement for specific airport landing for those inbound flights, and no enhanced entry health screening. According to the CDC, the justification is that often COVID-19 infections simply don't have the symptoms that these checks would be looking out for.

"We now have a better understanding of COVID-19 transmission that indicates symptom-based screening has limited effectiveness because people with COVID-19 may have no symptoms or fever at the time of screening, or only mild symptoms," the agency said in a statement. "Transmission of the virus may occur from passengers who have no symptoms or who have not yet developed symptoms of infection."

Just how many people infected with the coronavirus, but outwardly showing no symptoms, has been a frustrating factor as healthcare agencies in the US and abroad attempt to enact policies to prevent further spread. Official estimates on the rate of asymptomatic COVID-19 vary, with the CDC director saying back in March that as many as 25-percent of people could be infected – and contagious – but show no outward signs of that face.

More recent research has pinned down the typical timeline of symptoms for those who do display them, including the order at which the upper and lower gastro-intestinal tract is affected. The CDC has also softened its rules on when employees can return to work, including in cases where they are believed to have been exposed to coronavirus.

Causing some concern, however, is that the change in airport arrivals policies haven't been accompanied by a mandatory quarantine. That's proved effective in other countries, where incoming travelers are required to isolate for as long as 14 days, and pass one or more COVID-19 tests in order to be continue. The US has not implemented such a quarantine process.

On September 9, the TSA recorded under 620,000 travelers passing through checkpoints in US airports, a number which includes both domestic and international travelers. More than 2,000,000 were recorded on the same weekday one year ago. As of today, the CDC says there have been over 6.34 million cases of COVID-19 in the US, and more than 190,000 deaths have been blamed on the disease.