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Navigating the Latest Travel Restrictions Across the U.S.

By Laura Dannen Redman

Nov 20, 2020

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May we get to watch the sunrise from Hanauma Bay on Oahu, Hawaii soon.

Photo by Shane Myers Photography/Shutterstock

May we get to watch the sunrise from Hanauma Bay on Oahu, Hawaii soon.

It’s complicated.

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This is a developing story. We will continue to update as the world changes. For the latest information on traveling during the coronavirus outbreak, visit the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization

The United States is in the midst of what many predicted to be a new COVID spike this fall and winter. One million coronavirus cases were reported in the past week alone, reports AFAR’s Michelle Baran, and some state and local governments are imposing increasingly strict travel restrictions and recommendations ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. The CDC has also asked Americans to stay home for Thanksgiving.

You could get whiplash with all the rule changes. We’re actively reaching out to local and state tourism boards and following the latest recommendations of the CDC to give you the most up-to-date information about traveling—safely, responsibly—across the United States right now. Here’s what we know:

What questions should you ask before taking a trip?

Per the CDC, you should do this quiz before leaving your community:

  • Is COVID-19 spreading where you’re going? (You can get infected while traveling.)
  • Is COVID-19 spreading in your community? (Even if you don’t have symptoms, you could spread the virus to others while traveling.)
  • Will you or those you’re traveling with be within six feet of others during your trip? (That is, are you going to socially distance from others? It’s a good idea.)
  • Are you or those you’re traveling with more likely to get very ill from COVID-19? 
  • Do you live with someone who’s more likely to get very sick?
  • Does the state or local government where you live—or at your destination—require you to stay home for 14 days after traveling? (More on that below.)
  • Are you sick? (STAY HOME.)

These are the states with declining cases of COVID-19, as of November 20.

You’ll notice there aren’t many. Johns Hopkins University has been tracking COVID-19 publicly since January 22, and its world map, U.S. map, and critical trends graph have become our go-to sources for new coronavirus cases. In the infographic below, the greener the background, the bigger the downward trend of new cases in this state. As you can see, most states are seeing an upswing in cases. The U.S. on the whole confirmed its 11 millionth infection on November 15, and is getting very close to 12 million, as of November 20. Also notabale: The CDC reported a 55 percent rise in COVID cases for young adults ages 18–22 from August 2 to September 5 (including many students back in college). 

Puerto Rico and Hawaii are the only bright spots right now. Hawaii has a rigorous testing process in place for any visitors, while Puerto Rico—to remain safe—has scaled back capacity at restaurants, closed beaches, and imposed a new curfew through at least December 11. 

This snapshot is from November 20 but it’s updated regularly on coronavirus.jhu.edu.

Courtesy Johns Hopkins University

These states have seen recent spikes in COVID-19 cases:

The redder the background, the bigger the upward trend of new cases in this state. "Daily case reports are rising in 48 states, and with little action from the Trump administration, governors and mayors across the country are taking new steps to try to halt the spread. On Monday, a sweeping stay-at-home advisory went into effect in Chicago and Philadelphia announced strict new rules starting Friday, banning indoor gatherings and closing indoor dining at restaurants," reports the New York Times.

Travel restrictions by state: Who’s still in lockdown?

Several cities and states are rolling back their reopenings in some form, according to this regularly updated map by the New York Times. Among the most recent:

The governors of California, Oregon, and Washington on Friday "issued a joint statement urging residents to stay close to home and are advising against nonessential out-of-state travel," reports Baran. "The governors are also asking—not requiring—residents and visitors entering from out-of-state, including international travelers, to self-quarantine for 14 days." Check this L.A. Times graph to find the latest on the county you plan to visit, and read AFAR’s full story on California’s reopening.

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Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot called on residents in the nation’s third-largest city to restrict social gatherings to 10 people starting Monday, November 16. In instructions that were advisory, not mandatory, she urged residents to stay home except for essential activities, like going to work or grocery shopping. This stay-at-home advisory will last 30 days, or until the city deems it safe to end.

Louisiana is now in phase 3 of reopening with a statewide mask mandate. As of November 11, New Orleans is in phase 3.3, the last step before a final phase 4 reopening. The city started allowing bars to sell to-go alcohol again and restaurants, cafés, and bars with food permits could open to 75 percent capacity indoors. Read the latest at neworleans.com.

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s stay-at-home order went into effect Monday, November 16. Only essential businesses, including grocery stores and pharmacies, will be open.

New York has closed public schools and set a curfew for restaurants and bars of 10 p.m.

New Jersey has limited indoor gatherings to 10 people or less.

Nevada requires that people wear masks when they leave the house, be it in indoor public spaces or outdoor spaces where you can’t stand six feet from others. Las Vegas bars reopened at limited capacity in September.

Philadelphia banned all indoor dining at restaurants and indoor gatherings of any size, public or private, of people from different households, starting November 20.

Washington’s Democratic Governor Jay Inslee ordered gyms, bowling alleys, movie theaters, museums, and zoos to shut down indoor operations. Stores must limit capacity to 25 percent.

Can I travel across state lines during coronavirus?

Short answer: Yes, but you might have to quarantine.

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If you plan to visit Alaska . . . you need to do one of three things: complete a traveler declaration form and arrive with proof of a negative COVID-19 test; get a test when you arrive in Alaska and self-quarantine until you have the results; or self-quarantine for 14 days or the duration of your trip, whichever is shorter. Read more in our story Can We Travel to Alaska This Summer? and at covid19.alaska.gov/travelers.

If you plan to visit Chicago . . . and you’re from a red (hot spot) state, you’ll have to quarantine for 14 days (as of November 17—the list is updated weekly). If you're coming from an orange state, you will have to show a negative PCR test within 72 hours of arrival or quarantine for 14 days. The state of Illinois does not have the same quarantine rules. Visit chicago.gov for the most recent list.

If you plan to visit Hawaii . . . you have to self-quarantine for 14 days. But starting October 15, visitors to Hawaii who provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of arriving can avoid the otherwise mandatory 14-day quarantine that has been in place since March 26, AFAR’s Michelle Baran reports. Visitors must also fill out a mandatory online health applicationRead the full story.

If you plan to visit Maine . . . you’ll be asked to quarantine for 14 days on arrival, or sign a Certificate of Compliance that says you received a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of arriving in Maine. You’re exempt from both testing and quarantine if you’re coming from New Hampshire or Vermont. Check “Keep Maine Healthy FAQs” and the mandates for entering Maine for the latest information. 

If you plan to visit Massachusetts . . . and you're coming from a low-risk state(just Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, as of Nov. 11) you are exempt from quarantine. Otherwise, you must self-quarantine for 14 days on arrival or produce a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of arriving, according to the Massachusetts Travel Order. Check the latest quarantine list at mass.gov.

If you plan to visit New Hampshire . . . and you’re visiting or returning from out of state (excluding the New England states of Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, or Rhode Island) you must self-quarantine for 14 days. If you're asymptomatic and show a negative PCR test on or after day 7 of quarantining, you can end quaranttine. Visit covidguidance.nh.gov for the latest.

If you plan to visit New Jersey or Connecticut . . . and you’re coming from a current viral hot spot—aka nearly the entire country, by last count—you will be asked to self-quarantine for 14 days and face fines ($2,000–$10,000) and mandatory quarantine if you break isolation. The quarantine will apply to any state where 10 of every 100,000 people test positive on a rolling seven-day basis, or where the positivity rate in the total population is 10 percent, also on a seven-day rolling basis.

If you plan to visit New York . . . "After months of requiring a 14-day quarantine for travelers coming from an ever-shrinking and expanding list of U.S. states, New York has moved to a more uniform test-based system," reports Baran. "Starting November 4, travelers from out of state—and returning New Yorkers who left for more than 24 hours—will need to show two separate negative COVID tests and quarantine for at least three days on arrival." Read on for the full process.

If you plan to visit Vermont . . . you must quarantine for 14 days once you arrive. The exemptions have been suspended, as of November 10. Visit vermont.gov for the latest.

For all states, it’s worth checking the latest COVID-19 information on their sites before booking anything. Note that Florida, which formerly had a quarantine for Northeasterners, no longer has travel restrictions in place.

How are you going to travel?

“Travel increases your chances of getting and spreading COVID-19,” reports the CDC. “We don’t know if one type of travel is safer than others; however, airports, bus stations, train stations, and rest stops are all places travelers can be exposed to the virus in the air and on surfaces. These are also places where it can be hard to social distance.” 

“You’re going to see a resurgence of [road trips],” Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, which represents the domestic travel and tourism industry, told AFAR. Recreational vehicles (RVs) have seen a boom in rentals and sales this year, and a number of our staffers are planning on going that route for their first trips post-COVID. (Just check out Maggie Fuller's primer on RV travel during a pandemic.)

One last thought

As avid and responsible travelers, we’re all worried about the same things above all—the safety and health of the global village that has become inextricably linked by this international public health crisis. As we wait and watch to see how different governments respond to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s also important for travelers to be real and honest with themselves regarding what they are comfortable with and the ways in which they can and would travel that will minimize their impact when moving through the world.

Michelle Baran and the Associated Press contributed reporting to this article. It was last updated on November 20, 2020.

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