COVID-19 restrictions for international travel were recently lifted. What that means for Black travelers

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  • Published on June 21, 2022
  • Last Updated March 10, 2023
  • In Explainer

Former American Medical Association president and eMed CEO, Dr. Patrice Harris, answers questions about travel risks for Black people two years into the pandemic.

On June 10, the Biden Administration lifted the requirement that international travelers coming to the United States must test negative for COVID-19 within a day before boarding the flight.

Those whose business depends on international travel, like the airline companies, have praised the decision.

The administration is also heralding the move as a sign that the pandemic is more under control than it was when the requirement was put in place.

“This step is possible because of the progress we’ve made in our fight against COVID-19,” said U.S. Health Secretary Xavier Becerra when the decision was announced.

But for Black travelers, the news is not seen as universally good news. The pandemic is still very much a present concern, and Black travelers, like the wider Black population, have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

Dr. Patrice Harris is CEO and co-founder of eMed, a company dedicated to combining the “most authoritative and inexpensive in-home test kits with the largest real-time network of certified remote proctors,” according to the company’s website.

Dr. Harris was formerly the president of the American Medical Association, the first African American woman to be elected to the position, and she was in that position when the COVID-19 pandemic began.

DETOUR’s editor in chief, Dawn Booker, asked Dr. Harris about what effects the lifted travel restrictions will have on Black travelers.

How might the current CDC recommendations and lifted restrictions disproportionately impact Black travelers?

While it may be reasonable to discontinue these requirements in general, individuals should remain vigilant and consider individual and family risk factors as they make decisions around testing and other mitigation measures, especially when traveling.

From the very beginning of this pandemic, Black people have suffered a disproportionate impact of COVID-19, particularly severe disease, hospitalization and death. When requirements regarding testing, mask wearing and other mitigation measures are relaxed, the risk of infection increases. There will never be zero risk, so individuals should have a heightened situational awareness taking into account their health and the health of those who will be around them, local spread of disease and risk of activities, and that includes travel plans.

When it comes to COVID-19, what factors might make a traveler more vulnerable?

First, individual health status including diabetes and hypertension, and individuals who are immunocompromised. Second, whether or not, they will be in close quarters and large crowds, especially if others are not wearing masks or the area is not well ventilated and there is not adequate room to distance as appropriate. Third, there is also greater risk if a traveler is not vaccinated and boosted as recommended for their age and health status.

What are your suggestions for good practices and habits for Black travelers before, during and after travel to stay safe and healthy?

Everyone should be aware of the level of infection at home as well as their destination and plan accordingly. Consider testing prior to departure, continuing to wear masks at airports and on the plane, and testing right before and upon returning. Wear masks indoors. Prioritize eating and drinking outdoor cafe’s and venues. Finally, know that you can enjoy the travel experience and maximize safety. If you do test positive, please consider evaluation for oral medications that are now approved to treat mild to moderate COVID-19.

Why did you start eMed?

To bridge the health and technology worlds and to work to solve health problems, particularly around access to testing. At eMed, we believe that virtual care should start at home and via a platform that make the home the first point of care, with a commitment to science and integrity. Medical conditions can be diagnosed earlier thereby leading to improved health outcomes. This is particularly true for those impacted by health inequities. Black people are living sicker and dying younger, and I wanted to act to bend the curve on that statistic.

What impact do you think testing has had on the spread or containment of COVID-19?

A testing infrastructure is foundational to our ability to have eyes on the virus. If we know where there are outbreaks we can target those areas with interventions that limit further spread. In addition, with test results, we can make decisions about visiting senior or immunocompromised relatives and friends, whether to travel or attend a meeting. Now that we have treatment in the form of a pill, we can act quickly to get to a medical evaluation. I am certain that testing has reduced illness and outbreaks because based on results, people were aware that they were infectious and made decisions to quarantine. The eMed platform has been widely used by international travelers.

Anything else you would like to add?

If knowledge is power and testing is knowledge, then testing is power. We each have the power to keep ourselves as safe as we can. We should use that power.

This story was created by Detour, a journalism brand focused on the best stories in Black travel, in partnership with McClatchy’s The Charlotte Observer and Miami Herald. Detour’s approach to travel and storytelling seeks to tell previously under-reported or ignored narratives by shifting away from the customary routes framed in Eurocentrism. The detour team is made up of an A-list of award-winning journalists, writers, historians, photographers, illustrators and filmmakers.

This story was originally published June 21, 2022 9:00 AM.