Traveling from State to State and the Impact of Covid-19

Brett Lasky

According to Johns Hopkins University, every state in the Union has had at least one case of the novel Coronavirus (Covid-19), prompting all of them to declare a state of emergency. While the fight against Covid-19 is universal, the differing state by state responses have prompted a nationwide debate on the appropriate course of action. 

It is important to first distinguish, as the New York Times writes, “the Constitution guarantees the right to enter one state and leave another, but jurisdictions can require quarantines or statements of purpose.” Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has discouraged non-essential travel. The federal government has urged citizens to not travel even if the Constitution ensures the right to do so, making the question of whether or not to travel even more difficult. State decisions regarding travel have varied, so it is important to be aware what jurisdictions have stricter laws on the subject.

Aside from the international travel restrictions placed, the most imminent element of the pandemic has been the state mandated stay at home orders. However, as shown in the American Enterprise Institute figure below, only six states have not instituted mandatory stay at home orders. All travelers who are considering crossing state lines should take this information into account before making a decision whether or not to travel, as the non-stay at home states may present a larger threat to health. 

The stay at home order has been largely used as a way to extend social distancing guidelines produced by the CDC to mitigate the spread of the virus. Some states have even begun to issue mandatory 14-day quarantines for visitors from neighboring states, enforcing these measures with the National Guard. These steps were notoriously highlighted in Rhode Island, which initially enforced this order through fines or other penalties to visiting New Yorkers, as reported by ABC News. In the face of a potential lawsuit, the order was revised to “any person coming to Rhode Island by any mode of transportation after visiting another state for a non-work-related purpose.” With this context in mind, it is important for potential travelers to recognize which states are enforcing this mandatory quarantine in order to avoid potential punishments from the state. The AEI figure below illustrates which states are issuing mandatory quarantine for visitors. 

While it may be a constitutional right to travel, it does not mean that individuals should. The general consensus encourages potential travelers to take into account as much information as possible as well as guidance from both the CDC and individual states before making any travel decisions. CDC guidelines for travel can be found at this link. Additionally, the New York Times has compiled state by state information here. Ultimately, it is up to individuals to determine whether or not it is appropriate to travel during the coronavirus pandemic, but everyone must proceed with caution in this global fight against Covid-19.

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