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U.S.-bound international travelers scramble as new COVID test rules take effect

▶ Watch Video: CDC shortens testing window for travelers to the U.S., leaving Americans abroad scrambling for tests

New COVID-19 testing rules for anybody traveling to the United States went into effect Monday, sending Americans scrambling over the weekend to make sure they got tested on time to fly back into the country.

In response to the spread of the Omicron variant, President Biden announced last week that all U.S.-bound international travelers must test within one day of departure, regardless of their vaccination status or nationality. That is down from a 72-hour window for testing, a change that left many travelers wondering where, when and exactly how to get tested.

Among them were Sue and Bill Lee, who had to make a stop at a London clinic after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dropped the new testing requirements. They were heading back home to Wyoming over the weekend after visiting their son Ian Lee, a London-based CBS News correspondent.

“We’ve been listening to the news. News was saying that the States were going to up it to 24 hours. We finally got the word that we need to do it in 24 hours’ time,” Bill Lee told CBS News senior foreign correspondent Charlie D’Agata.

Despite the confusion, the couple said the test itself was a breeze.

“I was expecting it to be tougher than it was, just from what your friends tell you. But really, it was nothing. It was very easy to do,” Sue Lee said.

The new testing rules come as coronavirus cases rise ahead of the holidays. In the U.S., officials are reporting more than 100,000 new infections a day for the first time since early October.

However, the CDC said most of those cases are from the Delta variant, not from the new Omicron strain. Omicron cases have been confirmed in at least 17 states — all of them mild so far, with no deaths attributed to the new strain.

“Thus far, it does not look like there’s a great degree of severity to it,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“But we have really got to be careful before we make any determinations that it is less severe or it really doesn’t cause any severe illness comparable to Delta,” he said.

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