Christine Yi hoped that the results of the tests would be known until the doors of the boarding gate of her flight were closed.
New York-based content designer Ms Yi, 45, was trying to make her way to Grand Cayman in the Caribbean over Christmas weekend with her boyfriend, James Tracey, 47, the executive chef of Isabelle’s Osteria, a restaurant at the Gramercy in New York. piece.
The Cayman Islands require proof of a negative Covid test taken within 24 hours of departure to enter. Ms. Yi and Mr. Tracey had booked PCR testing through NYU Langone Medical Center a day before they left on December 24. She received her negative test results on the evening of the 23rd. Mr. Tracey’s test also came back negative – after 34 hours, one missed flight, $ 150 change fee, two hour wait for two tests. antigen rapid and round trip to John F. Kennedy International Airport.
“It was definitely a memorable start to our trip,” Ms. Yi said.
Frequent testing, combined with vaccines and masking, has been repeatedly cited as the key to a holiday season closer to “normal” pre-pandemic times. But for international travelers who need testing to get into their destinations, getting tested on time is easier said than done. Finding a test has become increasingly difficult – appointments are made and walk-in sites often have hours of waiting. And while you may be able to take a test, there’s no guarantee that your results will come back in time for you to get on board.
The ever-changing requirements for international travel make matters even more difficult, with test times often a moving target. In recent weeks, some places have shortened the window for valid test results, including the Cayman Islands – previously, a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours was enough to enter.
Testing has been a sore point over and over throughout the pandemic, from limited availability and turnaround times that could extend up to a week in spring 2020 to the shortage of home testing during the surge. from Delta last summer. But the double punch of the highly contagious Omicron variant and the holiday season led to a huge demand for testing that the United States was, on the whole, not prepared to meet. For some travelers, this means that the best-designed plans, and even backup plans, can fail.
“We now have as much test volume as we had in the big wave we saw over the holiday season,” said Alicia Zhou, scientific director of Color, a technology company in the field. Health Center in Burlingame, Calif., which has partnered with organizations around the world. countries to provide large-scale screening and vaccination programs. Color guarantees that PCR results will be reversed within 48 hours or less; According to Dr. Zhou, the majority of results are returned in 24 hours or less. The tests are free for the end user. They were able to maintain that turnaround time in the last wave, in large part because they didn’t scale back their operations when demand for testing plummeted in mid-2021, Dr Zhou said.
“I felt like it was not yet time for us to give up,” said Dr Zhou. “Omicron snuck up on us, but he also got to Delta’s tail.”
Demand for Food and Drug Administration-approved home tests like iHealth and BinaxNow has also skyrocketed, with pharmacies largely out of stock and shipping significantly delayed. Unless these tests are monitored by a healthcare professional, they are not sufficient for international travel, but they do provide peace of mind for family reunions.
“We are seeing unprecedented demand for BinaxNOW and we are sending them out as quickly as possible,” said a spokesperson for Abbott, the company that produces BinaxNow.
Uncertainty drives some people to hedge their bets, setting up multiple tests in case one doesn’t pass on time. Alle Pierce, a Palm Springs, Calif. Based travel counselor and founder of Gals Abroad Getaways, recommended making an initial testing appointment through a primary care doctor and offering a back-up plan, which could involve making a second appointment or evaluating a walk-in clinic, as Ms. Yi and Mr. Tracey were forced to do at the last minute, in case these results were not communicated to time.
If you can find a site that offers a quick turnaround time, “expect to pay more,” Ms. Pierce said.
Dr Zhou understood the need for this strategy, but encouraged the prompt cancellation of any additional testing appointments as soon as you receive your results.
“Try to make sure you don’t overbook and show up for these dates,” she said. “This leads to less availability for appointments for others.”
The coronavirus pandemic: what you need to know
Percia Safar, 31, an investor in Los Angeles, ended up paying $ 670 for two rapid antigen tests and a number of home tests before an international trip. Her process was further complicated by possible exposure to Covid 10 days before she was supposed to fly. In addition to self-testing herself daily at home and getting an antigen test five days after exposure, she had to line up either a PCR test done within 72 hours of leaving or a rapid test of antigen within 24 hours. She said she found it nearly impossible to find a site offering PCR tests that guaranteed results in her window – her local CVS pharmacy cited a two to four day delay.
A CVS spokesperson said in a statement that the company “continues to meet the demand for Covid-19 tests, even with an increasing number of patients seeking tests. He added that results are usually available within one to two days, but “may take longer due to local increases in Covid-19 cases.”
“I think I am allowed to have some of this reimbursed by insurance,” Ms. Safar said. “And of course, it was a privilege that I was able to pay out of pocket. But it’s a lot. I cannot believe the cost is on us.
Indeed, the ability to pay more for a test may seem like the only way to avoid long waits and slow turnaround times. Jack Ezon, founder and managing partner of EMBARK Beyond, a travel board for high net worth individuals, said his clients had not experienced any delays or disruptions due to the current test crash.
“Our clients will have a concierge doctor who will come to their home for a PCR or go to an express lab,” he said. “We don’t have these issues that much, but our customers are willing to spend four or five times the price just to get the service. “