In addition to asking airlines to share contact information for travelers who had recently been in southern Africa, the federal agency is tightening testing requirements to enter the U.S.
Currently, air travelers who haven't recently recovered from the virus must take a negative viral test before boarding their flight, with fully vaccinated travelers required to take the test no more than three days before departure. But starting Monday at 12:01 a.m. ET, all international air travelers – regardless of vaccination status or nationality – will have just one day to take a pre-departure test, as first reported by The Washington Post.
The updated entry requirements would follow the implementation of travel restrictions against eight countries that went into effect Monday.
"This strengthens already robust protocols in place for international travel," the CDC said in a Tuesday evening statement.
At a press conference earlier that day, director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the CDC was "evaluating how to make international travel as safe as possible," which could mean shortening the pre-departure testing window or adding additional post-arrival testing and a self-quarantine period.
Carter Yang, a spokesperson for airline industry trade group Airlines for America, said U.S. airlines "are prepared to implement the forthcoming requirement that passengers be tested one day prior to departure."
The CDC says it continues to recommend all travelers get a COVID-19 viral test three to five days after arrival, and that unvaccinated travelers quarantine upon arrival.
► Travel amid omicron outbreak:The omicron variant has sparked new travel restrictions. Are more COVID rules ahead?
► Are travel bans worth it?: They could slow the spread of omicron but they have repercussions, experts say
Will there be testing requirements for domestic travel?
When asked Thursday about the possibility of implementing vaccine or testing requirements for domestic flights, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said "nothing is off the table."
But President Joe Biden played down the possibility of adding more domestic travel restrictions on Friday, telling reporters he believes the travel measures announced this week "are sufficient" to handle the spread of the new variant.
"I continue to rely on the scientists and asking them whether or not we have to move beyond what we did yesterday. Right now, they're saying no," Biden said.
CDC direct airlines to share passenger contact information
While domestic travel rules remain unchanged, international travel rules are tightening up in an effort to curb the spread of the new omicron variant of COVID.
As of Tuesday, the CDC is directing airlines to hand over contact information for passengers coming from eight countries in Africa.
The directive affects passengers who have been in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, or Zimbabwe within 14 days of departing for the U.S.
The information collected includes names, addresses, phone numbers, emails and dates of birth.
"CDC is issuing this Directive to prevent the importation and spread of a communicable disease of public health importance," the agency said in a statement to USA TODAY.
Some of that data may already be collected by "established U.S. Department of Homeland Security data systems."
U.S. airlines have been asked to collect contact-tracing information for inbound international travelers and send it to the CDC "upon request" since Nov. 8, when the country adopted a new set of international travel restrictions.
Yang said U.S. airlines "will continue to provide the information to the CDC."
A statement from United spokesperson Christine Salamone said the airline will "continue to support the CDC." Delta spokesperson Morgan Durrant said the company, the only other U.S. airline offering service between the U.S. and Africa, will comply with CDC directives, "just as we have throughout the pandemic."
WHO releases new omicron travel guidance
The World Health Organization on Tuesday updated its travel guidance to say all unvaccinated travelers over the age of 60 are among those who should postpone travel due to the omicron variant.
The announcement is another sign that international travel restrictions, which grew more lenient in recent months, are tightening up again to combat the new variant.
Although much about the new variant is still unknown, the WHO suggested certain travelers postpone trips to areas with community transmission. This includes unvaccinated travelers who have not recovered from the virus and "are at an increased risk of developing severe disease and dying," including people with comorbidities such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
The WHO labeled the new strain a “variant of concern” last week due to its “large number of mutations.” Since then, a growing number of countries have reported the variant. The United Nations agency expects more countries will discover the virus within their borders in the coming days.
Preliminary evidence suggests the new variant may carry an increased risk of reinfection compared with other variants, but health officials say it will take weeks before they have a firm grasp on the severity of the new strain.
“Studies are ongoing to understand more about these mutations and their impact on transmissibility, virulence, diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines,” the WHO said.
The new guidance stemming from the omicron variant could be another blow to the global travel industry. The travel and tourism sector lost almost $4.5 trillion in 2020, with contributions to global GDP dropping 49% from 2019, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council.
Contributing: Eve Chen, USA TODAY
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: CDC orders airlines to share data on some travelers from Africa