Dec 2, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden extends mask mandates for travelers into 2022

President Biden speaks at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland on December 2. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden on Thursday announced new testing protocols for international travelers and extended masking requirements through March as the U.S. prepares to fight the Omicron variant this winter.

Driving the news: The U.S. will tighten pre-departure testing protocols starting early next week by requiring all inbound international travelers to take COVID-19 tests within one day of their departure rather than three.

  • The rule will apply regardless of a traveler's nationality or vaccination status.
  • "This type of testing timetable provides an added degree of protection as scientists continue to study the Omicron variant," Biden said Thursday while speaking at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.
  • The administration will also extend masking requirements for those traveling by plane, rail and public transit through March 18.

What he's saying: "I know COVID-19 has been very divisive in this country. It's become a political issue, which is a sad, sad commentary. It shouldn't be, but it has been," Biden said.

  • "Now as we move into the winter and face the challenge of this new variant, this is a moment we can put the divisiveness behind us I hope."
  • "The actions I'm announcing are ones that all Americans can rally behind and should unite us in the fight against COVID-19. And they come from a position of strength, we are better positioned than we were a year ago to fight COVID-19," Biden said.

Details: Biden's plan announced Thursday also includes expanding the nationwide booster campaign, launching new family vaccine clinics and increasing access to free at-home COVID-19 tests.

  • There is no plan as of now to implement post-arrival testing or quarantine requirements, according to the senior administration official.
  • "If additional measures are recommended, if additional measures can be implemented well and are effective, we won't hesitate to take them," a senior administration official said.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with details from Biden's speech.

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