October 20, 2020


Just Do Travel

Navigating the landscape of pandemic rules and travel restrictions in Alaska, Hawaii and abroad

4 min read

Thinking of traveling for the holidays to visit relatives or get some sun?

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are some extra considerations you’ll need to ponder. That’s especially true if you have kids in school.

“You shouldn’t be traveling if you want to go back to school,” explained Deena Bishop, Anchorage School District superintendent.

That’s the simple solution. But if you do have plans to travel, the Anchorage School District maintains that you must present negative COVID-19 test results from your second test, taken 7-10 days after you arrive back in Alaska.

Of course, kids are not in the classroom right now. But school buildings still are open and there are teachers and other staff on-site.

“I can’t even set foot in a school building until I get my second test back after traveling,” Bishop said. “I call it COVID Jail.”

The post-travel quarantine will mess up the travel plans of students, teachers and their families during the Christmas break — just like the uncontrolled community spread of the coronavirus continues to mess up many aspects of our everyday lives.

As it is, there is no firm date for in-school classes to begin. That will depend on when Anchorage has a lower number of new COVID-19 infections. Accordingly, if your students’ classes are taught online, they can tune in from anywhere: from a sunny beach or from Grandma’s spare bedroom. Just be prepared for your re-entry to Alaska and to the classroom.

When in-person classes do begin, the Anchorage School District will do its own COVID-19 testing. “Every school will have rapid testing available from the school nurse,” Bishop said.

In preparation for the Oct. 15 change to Hawaii’s traveler policy, which will allow travelers to avoid the state’s mandatory 14-day quarantine if they provide a negative COVID-19 test result, several airlines will start offering tests. United, American, Hawaiian, JetBlue and Alaska Airlines have developed programs with tests priced from $90 to $250 each.

One reason the airlines are ramping up the testing for Hawaii is because there is no on-site COVID testing available on arrival. If you don’t have proof of your negative test taken within 72 hours of arrival, you have to quarantine for 14 days.

Aside from travel to Hawaii, the onset of rapid COVID-19 testing may provide increased confidence for travelers to all destinations, particularly since no vaccine is available.

In spite of rising case counts at home, several countries are welcoming travelers from the U.S.:

1. Mexico. Although you cannot drive across the border, you can fly. No special testing or quarantine is required.

2. Brazil. Latin America’s largest country is chasing the U.S. for a record number of COVID-19 infections (144,767 deaths so far). Still, there’s no charge for a visa and no special documentation is required to visit.

3. French Polynesia. You can fly nonstop from San Francisco to Tahiti. You have to present a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours. A friend who visited there recently reacted to others who were surprised, “Yes, planes still exist.”

There are several countries in Africa that will welcome travelers from the U.S. Typically, a negative test is required within 48-96 hours of arrival. This includes Kenya, Egypt, Tanzania, Namibia, Rwanda, Ghana, Ethiopia and Zambia (no test required).

Right now you cannot travel to Europe’s most popular destinations (France, Spain, Italy, etc.). But if you want to go to North Macedonia and Albania (near Greece), go ahead. You also can travel to Turkey without restriction. Travelers to Croatia need a negative test within 48 hours of arrival.

In all, there are about 46 countries that you can travel to. In fairness, this includes a few countries with a mandatory 14-day quarantine. That includes Ireland and the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).

Not all testing schemes are the same, though. Take a flight to Bethel on Alaska Air. Fly on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. The city has mandated that all travelers take a test on arrival or submit proof of a recent test in Anchorage. But there’s no specific enforcement of the testing requirement.

So, travelers arriving on the weekend flights from Anchorage can enter a drawing for $1,000. Just show proof of your recent test, or get tested at the Bethel airport. Then, on Sunday nights, the City of Bethel draws a name from qualified entries — live on Facebook.

In sum, the global pandemic is in full bloom, particularly in the U.S. Public health measures continue to complicate travel here at home, as well as impeding travel to the vast majority of countries. In the interim, rapid testing is becoming an important element to gain traveler confidence, in addition to masks, hand-washing and social distancing.

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