In response to the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, the 50 states and the District of Columbia have adopted a variety of restrictions to contain the spread of the virus. Among other things, governors and state officials have issued stay-at-home orders, banned or restricted gatherings of groups, and ordered closure of certain non-essential business operations. Several states have also imposed varying restrictions on travelers from other parts of the country. Most of these interstate travel restrictions take the form of mandatory 14-day quarantine requirements for people traveling from COVID-19 hot spots, such as New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Louisiana. However, some states have taken more aggressive approaches, ranging from highway checkpoints to orders prohibiting hotels from accommodating residents of certain states where the virus is widespread. This post explains and analyzes these restrictions.

National Response

The federal government has not instituted mandatory quarantines or domestic travel restrictions targeting individual states or regions of the country. However, on Saturday, March 28, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a domestic travel advisory for the states of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Although “CDC does not generally issue advisories or restrictions for travel within the United States,” the Advisory urges residents of these states “to refrain from non-essential domestic travel for 14 days effective immediately” to slow the spread of the virus from areas where extensive community transmission of COVID-19 has occurred. The CDC Advisory does not apply to employees of critical infrastructure industries, as defined by CISA.

Many States Are Imposing Mandatory Self-Quarantines

To date, executive orders in at least 16 states have imposed 14-day requirements on persons traveling from certain COVID-19 hotspots. The following are several examples:

  • On March 23, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order requiring individuals traveling to Florida (with Florida being their final destination) through an airport from the Tri-State Area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, as well as from the city of New Orleans, to comply with a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine.
  • On March 26, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued executive order (GA-11), requiring a 14-day self-quarantine or isolation period for travelers coming to Texas from airports in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. The order excludes “people traveling in connection with military service, emergency response, health response, or critical-infrastructure functions, as may be determined by the Texas Division of Emergency Management.” On March 29, this order was expanded to cover air travelers coming into Texas from additional COVID-19 hotspots, including the state of California; the state of Louisiana; the state of Washington; the city of Atlanta, Georgia; the city of Chicago, Illinois; Detroit, Michigan; and the city of Miami, Florida.
  • On March 28, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) issued an updated order, requiring persons who have traveled through a state with “known widespread community transmission” to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival to Kansas. These areas include Louisiana, Colorado, California, Florida, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, any cruise ship or riverboat cruise, and any international travel. The requirement exempts workers in critical infrastructure sectors needed to continue operations during this pandemic and persons leaving the house to seek medical care.
  • On March 28, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo issued an executive order requiring a 14-day self-quarantine for any person traveling in from any other state. Exceptions are included for public health and safety workers, among others. The order superseded a previous order that controversially singled out residents from New York, with state officers targeting incoming cars with New York license plates.
  • On March 29, Delaware Governor John Carney ordered all out-of-state residents traveling into Delaware (with Delaware being their final destination) to immediately self-quarantine for 14 days in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19. The 14-day period is measured “from the time of entry into Delaware or for the duration of the individual’s presence in Delaware, whichever is shorter.” The order includes several exemptions, such as “individuals commuting into Delaware to work for an Essential Business or to perform Minimum Business Operations.” These restrictions also do not apply to “public health, public safety, or healthcare workers, or any other individual providing an assistance to an Essential Business or providing an emergency service related to COVID-19.”
  • On March 30, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear issued an executive order requiring anyone visiting or returning to that state to quarantine for 14 days and banning travel to other states. Exceptions to this prohibition include travel for medical reasons or to obtain necessary groceries or supplies, or to provide care for family members.
  • On April 3, Governor Janet Mills of Maine issued an executive order requiring that travelers arriving in Maine, regardless of their state of residency, self-quarantine for 14 days to slow the spread of COVID-19. This order exempts individuals who are providing essential services as defined by Governor Mills’ March 24 order.

Quarantine Enforcement and Other Invasive Travel Restrictions

In a country in which people have always traveled freely, most states imposing measures such as 14-day quarantine requirements have relied on self-enforcement. However, several states are taking more aggressive measures:

  • Florida established highway checkpoints on interstate 95 at the Florida/Georgia border to screen travelers coming from COVID-19 hotspots. State patrol officers also implemented checkpoints at the Florida/Alabama border to screen out travelers from Louisiana.
  • The Texas quarantine order discussed above also takes a more aggressive approach to enforcement than most other states. Persons required to quarantine under the order must submit a form to the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), provide personal information, and designate a quarantine location in Texas. The order states that Texas enforcement officers “will conduct unannounced visits to designated quarantine locations to verify compliance” and states that “failure to comply with th[e] order to self-quarantine shall be a criminal offense punishable by a fine not to exceed $1,000, confinement in jail for a term not to exceed 180 days, or both.”
  • The Rhode Island National Guard and state police set up checkpoints near the Connecticut border to screen all passenger vehicles with out-of-state plates to track potential COVID-19 cases. Rhode Island troopers collected personal information of all out-of-state travelers. Pursuant to a previous controversial order that has now been superseded, the Rhode Island national guard reportedly went door-to-door in coastal communities asking inhabitants whether they had recently travelled from New York.
  • On April 3, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster issued an order prohibiting all businesses that provide lodging (including hotels, short-term rentals, etc.) from making or accepting new reservations “from or for individuals residing in or travelling from any country, state, municipality, or other geographic area subject to or identified in a CDC travel advisory or other CDC notice as a location with extensive community transmission of COVID-19, to include the Tri-State Area (consisting of the States of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut).” The order includes exceptions for “operating commercial vehicles transporting essential goods and products” and for workers in assisting “in any operations or services identified by the United States Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency [CISA] in its March 28, 2020 Memorandum.

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Of the states that have implemented them, restrictions on people traveling from other states vary widely. That said, some general observations can be made:

  • Most state travel restrictions and quarantine requirements include exemptions for essential workers, although these vary to some degree.
  • Although a handful of states impose universal quarantine requirements regarding travelers from any city or state, most travel restrictions focus on residents or persons coming from named states or cities where COVID-19 transmission is widespread—such as California, New York, New Jersey, and Louisiana. Residents or travelers from these states are especially likely to be affected by these restrictions.

Although most people should be remaining at home (under stay-at-home orders), companies employing persons who must travel for business deemed “essential” (e.g., federal defense contractors) should provide information to such employees concerning interstate travel restrictions or quarantine requirements for the states through which they plan to transit. The reports cited above show law enforcement personnel conducting stops at roadblocks set-up at state borders. Essential businesses’ employees should be provided information and instructions to address such encounters.

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