Airlines, especially for international flights, are doing a great job protecting the passenger with the requirement of covid PCR test, however, I didn’t find them well collaborated with the respective authorities and, hence I had to go through a tough time to get my father tested at the designated locations in the US in time to fulfill those requirements. Hopefully, my rough experiences presented here before my father’s return to Nepal provide some guidance to other international travellers, and get the attention of the respective authorities to improve upon the process.
As my father’s return date to Nepal from the US was approaching, I started with the Qatar Airways website to check the COVID-19 requirements. In their posted travel requirements (Oct 09, 2021), I found “A COVID-19 negative report (RT-PCR, Gene Expert, True NAAT or WHO accredited test) obtained within 72 hours of the departure from the first port of embarkation or within 72 hours of arrival, if entering Nepal by land”, but there was no mention of the the designated testing sites at the departure country in US who understand and fulfill their requirements. How could they just leave it to the travellers? I did try to call the airlines but I was waiting forever, and had to hang up the phone. I then looked into the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) site but their travellers requirement (Oct 09, 2021) link didn’t provide any option for travellers in tourist visas who are required to get the Covid-19 test result within a strict time frame of 72 hours. This inadequacy of CDC, who misinformed the public about the masks mandate during the onslaught of COVID-19 and after the vaccinations, further escalated my mistrust.
Without any luck from CDC, I tried US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and found a link to the testing locations, but there was nothing for the foreigners in tourist visas for their travel needs. The Community-Base testing sites for Covid-19 site (Oct 09, 2021) led me to one of the testing sites, CVS Health. I tried to schedule an appointment but there were fields for Insurance or social security which my father didn’t have and, hence in a rush, we decided to visit one nearby, but CVS staff were all unaware of this travel requirement for the foreigners in tourist visas to guide us properly. They were just adamant about scheduling an appointment despite informing them of my father’s visitor status. A staff member in one of the CVS stores, out of the few we visited during our desperate attempt to meet the 72 hours requirement, directed us to Family Urgent Care. They initially said that they could do the test there but after finding that my father was on a tourist visa and didn’t have insurance, they outright refused the COVID test, and directed us to CVS at Som Center Rd. How can the health service be denied on the basis of visitor status in a country like the US?
When we couldn’t get any help from CVS at Som Center Rd, I frantically called one of my friends whose father was on a similar tourist visa and who just returned to Nepal. She suggested me fabricating COVID symptoms which I couldn’t do. I ran out of options at that hour as it was already late afternoon, and the possibility of getting an appointment that day was almost nil. So, I was thinking of cancelling the flight as there was not much time left being constrained by the requirement of 72 hrs. As the last straw, I tried to schedule the test online (Oct 09, 2021) again, and this time, I noticed - “ … You may continue to book an appointment if you do not have or prefer not to provide this information” in small letters. It could actually have been included as the third option for foreign travellers who don’t have social security and insurance. We could finally schedule an appointment just in time at 2:30pm in one of the remote CVS stores, but we were still not sure whether we could get the test result in time (turnaround times are 1-2 days on average). As a matter of fact, the link to COVID-19 test result was never sent to the phone number or the email address given in the form as instructed under Getting Results “How and when will I get results?” After not getting the emails/texts, except the first automated email, for 2 days (turnaround times are 1-2 days on average), we re-checked that automated email in my father’s inbox and activated MyChart, and bingo, the test result was there.
I recently got a frantic call from one of my friends who didn’t get the PCR test results for her parents from Rite Aid Pharmacy in the stated time, and had to urgently do it again via CVS Pharmacy. She was thinking of postponing the flight, but fortunately she could get the result in the CVS MyChart in the afternoon for her parents' flight in the evening.
As a US resident, I also felt very shameful about its systems that failed to cater to even such small requirements of tourists that it welcomes with open hands. Travellers can’t be expected to do so much research just to get the COVID PCR test done. So, the links to travel requirements in airline sites need to be provided to the passengers when the tickets are issued to them, and they need to have adequate information to meet those requirements. There should also be a proper communication with respective authorities about the requirements that were put in place for travel safety. It is my request to the respective authorities to take care of the broken communications among them so that travellers don’t need to go through such helpless situations during this pandemic.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of New Spotlight.