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SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — In an effort to get a jumpstart on any new COVID variant entering the United States, the Centers for Disease Control announced Monday it was launching a new monitoring program at San Francisco International, JFK and Newark airports to voluntarily test international travelers for new strains of the virus.
As a mRNA virus, COVID-19 is constantly evolving and changing across the world. A recent example is the Delta variant which is still creating medical havoc in some parts of the country.
Early detection will allow medical researchers to quickly begin testing how the new strains spread and react to the vaccines currently in use.
The CDC will be conducting the SFO monitoring program in collaboration with the XpresCheck COVID-19 testing company and Ginkgo Bioworks.
“We are proud to be chosen for this pilot program with the Centers for Disease Control,” said SFO Airport Director Ivar C. Satero in news release. “Throughout the pandemic, SFO has been a leader in enhanced screening, onsite testing, and vaccination programs. This latest initiative represents another step forward in the effort to identify, track, and ultimately mitigate potential new variants of COVID.”
Dr. Cindy Friedman, Chief of CDC’s Travelers’ Health Branch, echoed Satero’s sentiments.
“The program will enable near-real-time detection of novel COVID-19 variant strains,” she said.
All air passengers coming to the United States, including U.S. citizens and fully vaccinated people, are required to have a negative COVID-19 test result no more than 3 days before travel or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 in the past 3 months before they board a flight.
This pilot project, which is unrelated to existing testing orders or travel restrictions, will invite passengers to volunteer for two types of tests.
The first is a “pooled” PCR test, meaning several passengers’ samples are combined and tested as a group and sequenced if positive.
The second type of test involves providing passengers with an at-home specimen collection kit that passengers submit for an individual PCR test 3-5 days after arrival into the United States.
The time frame is in line with CDC’s current recommendation that all travelers get tested 3-5 days after international travel. Positive results will also be sequenced.
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