For those who must travel, or those who are itching to do so, airlines and airports are increasingly offering ways to get tested for the coronavirus ahead of a trip. Taking a test can assure you and others that you aren’t spreading the virus from one place to another. In recent weeks, some destinations, like Hawaii, and other select Caribbean countries began allowing people who have tested negative for the virus and can show test results to skip mandatory 14-day quarantines, a process that some view as risky because it is possible that people can take a test, receive a negative result and then contract the virus later. Meanwhile, other destinations, including Belize, are benefiting from an increase in testing availability; AA expands its pre-flight testing programme to Belize while the country expands private testing locally. Here’s everything to know about coronavirus testing and your travel to Belize.
Are all coronavirus tests the same?
No. There are two categories of coronavirus tests: virus tests, which help determine if you have the coronavirus, and antibody tests, which detect if you have an immune response because of past exposure to the virus.
If you want to find out if you currently have Covid-19, you should plan on taking a virus test like a polymerase chain reaction or PCR test. This is also the test Belize requires within 72 hours of travel. As such, PCR tests are currently considered the gold standard for tests because of their accuracy and reliability. PCR tests can detect an active infection and require a swab in the nose or the back of the throat. However, some tests use saliva. Ultimately, the PCR test is highly sensitive and looks for the virus’ genetic material.
Another type of diagnostic test is an antigen test, which detects the presence of a specific viral antigen or bits of coronavirus proteins, implying current viral infection. For antigen tests, a sample is collected by nasal swabbing, with hopes that there are some virus proteins in the sample.
You’ve probably heard of antibody tests, too, but those aren’t what you need in order to travel. An antibody test checks for antibodies, which may tell you if you had a past infection with the virus that causes Covid-19.
Are rapid tests reliable?
Many companies have released rapid tests and they are mostly antigen tests and they take minutes to return results. These tests tend to be less accurate, and false negatives could lead people to unwittingly spreading the virus. However, they are fast and affordable. Destinations including Belize do not accept results from rapid antigen tests
How do I know which test to take?
Most airlines and destinations primarily accept PCR tests. If you’re taking a test specifically because you are about to travel, you should first see if your destination has a list of tests that it will accept. Many places, including Hawaii, Washington D.C., New York and a number of Caribbean countries like Belize, specify which tests they will accept. For example: If you get a test that isn’t approved for Belize, you will be subject to testing on arrival inside its airport clinic at your own expense.
How does testing inside Belize’s airport clinic work?
At the Belize airport, the rapid test includes two methods; a Rapid Antigen test (nasal swab) and an Antibody IgG/IgM combo test (finger prick blood test). Both take approximately 5 to 15 minutes for the patient to receive their results. However, that does not account for waiting time inside the clinic, found at Terminal 2, depending on how many passengers require a rapid test on arrival.
Where do I get a test in the U.S.A.?
Many places are offering coronavirus tests, including some hospitals, urgent care clinics, pharmacies and doctor’s offices. Some churches and fire stations are offering testing, too. Airlines like Hawaiian Airlines, United Airlines, JetBlue and American Airlines are offering testing at the airport or at nearby drive-through sites for passengers heading to certain destinations. For example, American Airlines currently extends the following to passengers:
- At-home test from LetsGetChecked (with a 48-hour turnaround time on average)
- In-person testing at select CareNow urgent care locations in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas (DFW) area
- Onsite rapid testing at DFW airport, administered by CareNow
Meanwhile, some airports have clinics in terminals. Companies, including CareCube and Pixel by LabCorp, will mail a test to you and you send back a sample; they promise to send you your results within 12 to 34 hours and 36 hours, respectively. JetBlue has a partnership with Vault Health for mail-in tests. It’s a good idea to start by reaching out to your doctor’s office to see what all the available options for testing are and how long it will take to get results. If you don’t have a primary care provider, a good place to start is on city and state health department websites, which outline the various testing options and locations.
I have a trip to Belize coming up. When should I take my test?
It is very strongly recommended to get a coronavirus test before you travel to Belize. Figuring out the exact time can be tricky, but you can’t wait too long to take the test because you might not get the results within the acceptable window of time before departure. For those reasons, many destinations, including Belize, require that the test be taken within 72 hours of departure. You can walk into a testing site, but it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment; do not wait until the last minute to get the test.
How long does it take to get test results back?
It depends. If you’re taking a test because you’re getting ready to go on a trip, you should look for test providers who will get results back to you within 36 hours, so that you have your results by the time you leave for your trip. Keep in mind that different tests will come with different wait times for results. Rapid tests typically return results in less than an hour, and results from PCR tests tend to take a few days because samples have to be sent to a lab.There’s always a chance that your results won’t arrive in time. Luckily, Belize offers a double rapid test on arrival for US$50 per person; Belize tests all passengers 5 years old and up.
Does insurance cover coronavirus tests?
Not all tests are covered by insurance, but since the passage of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act in March, many Americans should have coverage for coronavirus testing. Under the Act, public and private insurance, including self-funded plans, have to cover F.D.A.-approved coronavirus tests and costs associated with diagnostic testing. Rapid tests like the ones offered at the airport on the day of travel might not be covered by many insurance companies.
What should I do if I test positive for the virus?
Stay home and isolate. Don’t travel with the virus. Speak with your accommodation in Belize to share your results to postpone and/or rebook travel.