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Biden administration not ruling out COVID vaccine and test requirements for domestic flights

Published Dec 2nd, 2021 5:02PM EST
white house press secretary jen psaki in red dress
Image: Chris Kleponis - CNP/MEGA

Right now, if I wanted to, I could book a flight this afternoon from my hometown here in Memphis and be in Chicago by this evening. One of the few concessions I would have to make in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, of course, is wearing a mask for the duration of that flight. However, in light of the worrisome new Omicron COVID-19 variant, potential new Biden administration travel restrictions could soon complicate the process of booking and taking that hypothetical flight.

A reporter recently asked White House press secretary Jen Psaki if the US should extend newly-announced rules for international travelers to domestic flights, too. The logic is as follows: This week, the first instance of someone with the Omicron COVID variant was found in California. If we’re banning flights from certain South African countries, where this variant was discovered, why do we allow an open and unobstructed continuation of flights from California to anywhere in the US? Since that same COVID strain that precipitated the new international flight rules has now been found in the Golden State?

Imminent travel restrictions for domestic flights?

Understand, I’m only guessing at the logic behind this line of inquiry. It is, to be sure, an apples-to-oranges comparison. Because, unlike foreigners on flights banned from South Africa? People in California have a right to freedom of movement inside the US since they’re, of course, American citizens.

Having said that, though, imminent travel restrictions from the Biden administration along these lines could certainly be in the works. When the reporter asked Psaki this week about COVID vaccine or testing requirements for domestic flights — her answer?

“Nothing is off the table.”

Not only would that represent a huge drag on the travel industry in the US. Because the more roadblocks you put in people’s way, the less likely they are to travel. But it would also represent a bit of a tricky needle to thread for Biden officials. Here’s why.

Vaccinated people are getting Omicron – but get your vaccine

The fact that there have now been instances of vaccinated people contracting the Omicron variant of COVID-19 comes at a time when the administration is also trying to convince more Americans to get vaccinated. And to take the extra step, after that, of getting a COVID-19 booster shot.

“To what end?” though, is the question the administration hasn’t really provided perfect clarity around. As the new Biden travel restrictions, themselves, show. There is still a considerable amount of vaccine hesitancy, in case anyone has been living under a rock for the past year. I’ve gotten two vaccine doses myself, as well as a booster shot in recent days. But having said that, I’m not sure the administration is telling the strongest story it could be telling in an effort to break down people’s hesitancy.

As I understand it, the idea is to convince people that layers of protection are the way to go, to beat this thing. Vaccines don’t produce a force field around your body. People’s biology is a complicated thing. Which is to say, there’s always a chance you can contract the virus anyway. And thus the benefit of add-on protections, like masks and social distancing.

I do feel, however, that message gets a little lost. And that it leaves some people with the impression that the vaccines aren’t as good as they are. Especially when, with the new travel requirements, we’re adding restrictions to people who’ve been vaccinated and who don’t currently have COVID-19.

Facing the facts

Strange as it might sound to some people to say this? I’m not sure our heavy reliance on pronouncements from an expert like Dr. Fauci is our way out of this pandemic. Former New York Times science writer Don McNeil made my point thus in a recent post on his Substack: “Reams of studies suggest that, under stress, facts backfire and make people dig deeper in.”

All of us know we need a certain amount of sleep at night. That certain foods are not only bad for us but are slowly killing us, by degrees. And that we all probably need more exercise.

How many of us actually do all of those things, though, at the ideal level? Even though we understand that we need to?

A cold, clinical presentation of facts is not the magic key that unlocks all doors of resistance. No matter how worthwhile or valuable what you have to say to someone might be, what good is it if your listener tunes you out because they can’t stand you?

Andy Meek
Andy Meek Trending News Reporter

Andy Meek is a reporter who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming. Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.