Biden to boost funds for COVID-19 tests in schools, shelters: White House

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration plans to provide $650 million to expand COVID-19 testing for elementary and middle schools, as well as homeless shelters and other underserved congregate settings, the White House said in a statement on Wednesday.

It will also spend $815 million to increase U.S. manufacturing of testing supplies and $200 million for virus genome sequencing, the statement said.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Tim Ahmann)

White House says no intention to require COVID-19 testing on domestic flights

By David Shepardson and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House said on Friday it was not currently planning to require people to take COVID-19 tests before domestic airline flights after the prospects of new rules raised serious concerns among U.S. airlines, unions and some lawmakers.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at a briefing on Friday that “reports that there is an intention to put in place new requirements, such as testing, are not accurate.”

Psaki spoke after the chief executives of major U.S. airlines, including American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines, met virtually with White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said last month the agency was “actively looking” at expanding mandatory COVID-19 testing to U.S. domestic flights.

The CDC on Jan. 26 began requiring negative COVID-19 tests or evidence of recovery from the disease from nearly all U.S.-bound international passengers aged 2 and older.

Any CDC order would first need to be drafted and then reviewed by other federal agencies in the Biden administration, including the White House.

The White House and officials told Reuters this week that no formal order had been circulated and that officials were not expected to endorse requiring negative COVID-19 tests before domestic flights, but added that decision could change at a later date.

“We had a very positive, constructive conversation focused on our shared commitment to science-based policies as we work together to end the pandemic, restore air travel and lead our nation toward recovery,” Nick Calio, chief executive of the Airlines for America industry group, said in a statement after the meeting on Friday.

The White House has a separate interagency meeting scheduled for later Friday to discuss coronavirus issues.

The meeting of airline CEOs, Zients and other administration officials involved in COVID-19 issues came after the industry strongly objected to the possibility of requiring COVID-19 testing before domestic flights.

Southwest Airlines warned such a requirement could put jobs at risk and a major aviation union said it could lead to airline bankruptcies.

One idea that has been under serious consideration is for the CDC to issue recommendations advising against travel to specific areas of the United States with high COVID-19 caseloads, although those travel recommendations would not be binding, officials said.

The CDC currently has a broad recommendation discouraging all non-essential air travel.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Jonathan Oatis; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Jonathan Oatis and Sonya Hepinstall)

Travel group opposes mandatory quarantine sought by Biden for U.S. international passengers

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A group representing the U.S. travel industry on Friday said it opposes making quarantines mandatory for international air passengers returning to the United States.

U.S. Travel said it believes the introduction of new mandatory negative COVID-19 testing requirements for all international air passengers aged two and older eliminates the need for quarantines for returning passengers.

The new international testing requirements start Tuesday.

The group said enforcing a “mandatory quarantine requirement for international travelers could be extremely difficult to enforce”.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a seven-day quarantine for passengers arriving in the United States.

U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday issued an executive order directing agencies to require international air travelers to quarantine upon U.S. arrival, and directed U.S. agencies to implement a federal mask mandate in interstate transportation.

Biden told reporters passengers will need to “quarantine when they arrive in America”.

The White House did not comment Friday on the travel group’s concerns.

Biden’s order directed agencies to make recommendations to “impose additional public health measures for domestic travel.” Officials say Biden could require COVID-19 testing before flying domestically, similar to the incoming international requirements.

U.S. Travel Chief Executive Roger Dow said Friday the group does not think making testing mandatory before domestic travel “feasible or viable” and questions if the United States has the testing capacity.

Biden’s order says “to the extent feasible” air travelers must comply with applicable CDC guidelines concerning international travel “including recommended periods of self-quarantine”.

The Biden administration said this week it would reimpose entry bans on most non-U.S. citizens who have recently been in Brazil, the United Kingdom, Ireland and most of continental Europe after President Donald Trump issued an order on Monday lifting them from the same day the new testing rules take effect.

Biden has yet to issue a new order to reimpose those entry bans.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Jan Harvey)

HHS to open ‘surge’ COVID-19 testing in Florida, Texas, Louisiana

(Reuters) – The U.S. government is creating short-term “surge” testing sites for the novel coronavirus in three metropolitan areas in Florida, Louisiana and Texas to meet demand from rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said on Tuesday.

The program adds testing for 5,000 people per day for a five- to 12-day period and will help identify new cases, particularly among asymptomatic people, and potentially limit the spread of the disease, Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Brett Giroir said during a call with reporters.

The sites are opening on Tuesday in several locations in the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, area and on Wednesday at multiple sites in the Jacksonville, Florida, area and at one location in Edinburg, Texas.

Florida and Texas are among many U.S. states with high infection rates as a percentage of diagnostic tests conducted over the past week and long testing lines.

After assessing the impact of the testing on the rate of new cases in these areas, the government could deploy such surge testing sites in other locations around the country, Giroir said. He said no decisions have been made yet about other possible sites.

“We need to do this and see what the effect is,” he said.

The U.S. government has largely left testing for COVID-19 to the states after closing down most of the federal testing sites opened in March and April. The surge sites would supplement each state’s own testing plans.

HHS has tapped eTrueNorth, a U.S.-based company that has done community health center testing, for the sites. The tests are free and lab results are available in three to five days.

(Reporting by Caroline Humer in New York and Manojna Maddipatla in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Jonathan Oatis)

CVS Health ramps up COVID-19 drive-through test sites in 14 U.S. states

CVS Health ramps up COVID-19 drive-through test sites in 14 U.S. states
(Reuters) – CVS Health Corp said on Thursday it was expanding drive-through testing sites for COVID-19 to 350 locations in 14 U.S. states with an aim to open 1,000 sites nationwide by the end of May.

The drugstore chain, which has been operating large-scale testing sites since early April, said the objective is to process up to 1.5 million tests per month, subject to availability of supplies and lab capacity.

The new sites will use self-swab tests that will be sent to an independent, third-party lab for processing and the results will be available in about three days, CVS said.

The 350 locations include Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Earlier this month, the company announced 50 drive-through testing sites across five states, including Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

(Reporting By Mrinalika Roy in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur)