By Stephanie Armour and Sabrina Siddiqui
WASHINGTON—President Biden plans to tighten up Covid-19 testing timelines for travelers entering the U.S. and extend a mask mandate on airplanes and other public transportation as part of a broad administration effort to combat the Omicron variant.
International travelers coming to the U.S. will have to test within a day of departure, regardless of vaccination status, rather than the 72 hours currently required for vaccinated travelers, under new protocols early next week, senior administration officials said. The new testing rules will apply both to U.S. citizens and foreign nationals entering the country.
The administration will also require travelers to wear masks through mid-March on planes, buses and trains, and at domestic transportation hubs such as airports and indoor bus terminals, rather than allowing the requirement to expire on Jan. 18 as planned. Fines will continue to be double their initial levels, with a minimum fine of $500 for noncompliance and up to $3,000 for repeat offenses.
Other measures include expanding access to at-home, over-the-counter Covid-19 tests and ensuring they are covered by private insurance or offered free at health centers; launching family-vaccination clinics; and issuing checklists for schools to promote vaccination. The administration is also ramping up its push around booster shots, and Biden on Thursday is expected to announce a public-education campaign that will target seniors and a program with pharmacies to reach out to Americans who are eligible for a booster.