If Our Government Was Competent, Banning People From Entering With Diseases Could Make Sense

The New York Times reports that federal government is considering new rules “that would allow border officials to temporarily block an American citizen or legal permanent resident from returning to the United States from abroad if the authorities have reason to believe the person may be infected with the coronavirus.”

They’re just proposing this now. In August. When the virus first entered the U.S. in mid-January. Spread in the United States is greater than most other places in the world so this rule cannot possibly be aimed at preventing the introduction or spread of the virus in the United States.

The U.S. today bans travel by non-residents who have recently been to either Europe or China. And despite a resurgence in cases in some parts of Europe, prevalence of the virus in both places is far below that of the United States. It’s reasonable for China or Europe to say that on average they’re concerned about arrivals from the U.S. but a continued travel ban by the U.S. makes no sense.

It’s at least arguable in the case of Brazil which faces a similar ban, but again, the virus is already spreading here.

  • The ban on arrivals from China was incompetently implemented. Passengers could enter via Vancouver. The CDC didn’t collect complete information on travelers, and faxed details one flight at a time to local health departments. The agency took its tracking system offline for a time and simply directed that everyone be let into the country in the interim.

  • The ban on travelers from Europe came too late, after the virus had already entered the Northeast from there.

  • No restrictions on travel were implemented within the United States allowing the virus to spread out from New York and elsewhere. Some states imposed quarantine restrictions on arrivals from high risk states. Florida only lifted its quarantine rule for travelers from New York last week.

  • Countries with more confirmed cases per capita than the United States include Qatar; French Guiana; Bahrain; San Marino; Chile; Panama; Kuwait; Oman. There are no travel restrictions on people coming from these countries.

When the U.S. government limited international flight arrivals to a handful of airports, and began a health regime in hopes of detecting passengers carrying the virus, they didn’t actually find anyone. And remember that the greatest spread seems to be while people remain asymptomatic.

There’s no testing regime on arrival. Instead customs and border officials would block entry by American citizens based on a ‘reason to believe’ by officials that someone was infected.

To be sure it’s inadvisable for someone shedding the virus to fly to the U.S. (or anywhere), enter the country, pick up an Uber or use public transportation to their destiantion. But there’s no plausible reason to think that those who are actually a public health risk will be detected now, half a year into the pandemic, or that attempting to do so at this time will help bring spread of the virus under control.

  • The 5,000,001st confirmed case or 6,000,001st confirmed case in the U.S. isn’t materially likely to alter the direction of virus spread (nor would adding 10,000 to the case count).

  • A better approach would seem to be to quarantine suspected positive arriving passengers until a test determines whether they are infectious with the virus (as anyone with the virus should quarantine).

  • CBP should have procedures and proper protective gear for working with sick travelers.

  • But it seems like a bad idea to turn away such passengers at the border, potentially even demanding that airlines fly them back in a plane next to other passengers.

These challenges wouldn’t be any different, by the way, under a Biden administration. For all the U.S. policy failures, some of the gravest have come from limitations on the effectiveness of the bureaucracy implementing policy and that’s an entrenched feature of the government. Fortunately, despite policy blunders in the U.S., the country’s biomedical response has been world-leading (alongside the U.K.).

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Similar challenges under our next President Biden, but of course, he would actually acknowledge this virus isn’t magically going to go away some day. And will also lead a government not shuttling in and out temporary department heads & others who openly hate the department they are running.

  2. How can the federal government be competent when it fails to do its actual job of securing borders and removing all illegal aliens. Instead, you want to make it harder for actual citizens from exercising their rights. We never learn. After 9/11, instead of preventing Middle Eastern Men from getting student visas, we have the patriot act and TSA which abuses citizens and legitimate tourists.

    For a virus where 98% who get it have no symptoms we are supposed to shutdown the country. Great. Anytime there is a bad cold season American citizens can’t come home. Wonderful.

  3. The problem for the US (and many other countries including the UK) is that tight restrictions run counter to the prevailing ethic and there are simply no mechanisms available to enforce them. The UK tried to introduce quarantine but it has no ability to enforce it whereas the US hasn’t even tried, presumably partly because it knows it’s unenforceable in the US.

    The issue really with the travel restrictions in place is that they are there, I suspect, to satisfy public opinion more than to squash the virus. It’s more important for politicians to be seen to do something than it is for them to be logical. As long as the swing voter thinks that it’s a good idea to restrict travel, that’s what will happen.

  4. I can just see anybody who coughs getting reported by some busybody and getting detained upon arrival. For some people, it is normal to cough.

  5. This just shows how incompetent Trump and his government is. They say there is no problem but they want to prevent some people from entering. Let me guess, it will be based on their skin color and which way they will vote?

    Maybe instead they should be banning germ fests like in South Dakota but instead that is Trump’s voting base.

    I honestly wish I wasn’t alive to see this disaster and how his supporters pretend everything is ok and it is someone else’s fault. And you have his idiots like Graham and the Kentucky nut following him.

  6. @UA-NYC if Biden wins (and he is certainly the favorite at this point) he will only say what his handlers tell him. Slow Joe is so incapacitated mentally he can’t come up with many original thoughts. Just like last week when he made the offensive comments about blacks all being the same but praising Latino diversity (which was later corrected via Twitter and YOU KNOW he didn’t write the retraction).

    Trump isn’t a role model by any means on many issues and was way down on my list of preferred candidates. However, the economy (and my investments) have done well and that is all I care about. If Joe wins he will be a puppet with the strings pulled by his handlers and his VP waiting in the wings to take over when they finally decide to declare him unfit for office.

    Be VERY careful what you ask for!

  7. They can “consider” such regulations until they’re blue in the face, but they are unlikely to be found constitutional. The only way to implement this would be, as you said, to order a quarantine on arrival. The US government has no authority to prevent a US citizen from entering the country.

  8. @The Brain – not sure where to start with refuting your points…but:
    1. Trump slurs his words, has the vocabulary of a 10 year old, and has a lifetime track record of failed businesses (don’t even have to get into his personal characteristics, too many to list)…not sure anyone can do much worse.
    2. Biden will have actual, you know, competent and permanent people underneath him, will restore actual stability and rationality to the government
    3. Trump rode The Amazing Obama Bull Market Economy’s coattails for a couple years, goosed it with a wholly unnecessary tax cut at the height of the market (one that basically gave away 1.5T and did nothing for the economy), and now it’s cratered (with a recent small market bounceback, which as we know is further getting divorced from the actual economy).

    The fish rots from the head.

  9. “If our government was competent” is only a way to begin a fairy tale. Government by its very nature is only capable of varying degrees of incompetence. We would do well to remember this before asking them to take over any more important functions in our society.

  10. Restricting travel between the states is a violation of the Constitution Article IV Section 2.
    “The citizens of each state shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states.”

  11. Hey Rich – how about banning Black Lives Matter protests (no social distancing, many without masks, often followed by Burning, Looting and Murder? Might be a good idea after listening to that Black Lives Matter organizer in Chicago:

    “I don’t care if someone decides to loot a Gucci or a Macy’s or a Nike store, because that makes sure that person eats,” said Ariel Atkins, a BLM organizer, “That is reparations. Anything they wanted to take, they can take it because these businesses have insurance.”*

    You guys over in the party of the jackass support BLM, so we have to pin this tail on your donkey!

    *from NBC Chicago – strait from the mouth of the jackass leaning media.

  12. The current spread of the virus in various parts of the country has nothing to do with New York. New York and other states in the region have the virus under control for the most part. It has everything to do with certain states not taking these issues seriously and allowing the virus to continue to spread. I’m pretty sure people from Europe flew to Texas as well and it was all over the country before we even had test confirmations. Point is the reason this is not under control is because certain states and their populations refuse to do what is necessary to deal with the situation. Adding more infected people into the mix just prolongs this virus that much longer.

  13. Great. Open with a quote form Fake News NY Times. Then we hear from the expert on all things anti Trump
    Still can’t resist the opportunity to bash Trump. Good luck if Biden wins comrade.

  14. @Joe – bring it on punk a$$ b!tch…keep pretending it’s 2016 and the voter population hasn’t lived through 3.5 years of the most embarrassing elected leader in the country’s history

  15. @Doug the fairy tale that governments cannot be competent must end. Germany has been nothing but competent (as has been Australia). This defeatist argument is why the US is in such a viral cesspool.

    @Ricky everything your favorite channel (Fox News) has been saying about the virus … has NOT come true. What do the facts say about who is lying?

    @Gary what do you mean by “the country’s biomedical response has been world-leading”? Are you comparing it to China or Singapore? Or to Brazil?

  16. 1) If Our Government “WERE” Competent…

    2) They aren’t. CBP is a shit show. My wife and I flew back 2 weeks ago to BWI; CBP agents couldn’t care less about wearing masks themselves.

  17. I have come to the realization that we cannot please everyone. Unfortunate. I have decided instead of fighting the people against public health measures, we should allow them to live as they wish. On one absolute condition. They agree that they themselves will not receive care for COVID, once contracted. Let them die “free”. Why waste resources on them? Also just because you are free act a fool does NOT mean you are free to impose your skewed liberties upon others. While you are at it, stop wearing seat belts or better yet. Just leave forever.

  18. The true intent here is to close the Mexican border and prevent US citizens of Latino descent from returning to the United States. Trump has said as much. This is just cover for yet another racist and unconstitutional policy.

  19. @Joe – people like you embarrass yourself…you just roll in with your truck nutz and say “UH LIBTARDS GONNA BE PISSED IN NOVEMBER WHEN TRUMP RE-ELECTED”, and of course never have anything to back it up. Never mind 3.5 years of racism, xenophobia, lying, cheating, Russia pandering, incompetence, anti-science, neoptism, graft, pissing on all Presidential norms, Covid denial, 160K dead (250K by 11/3), etc.

    The American population as a whole aren’t as dumb as you…Trump could con people once (as an “outsider” who would “drain the swamp”, LOLOLOL in hindsight), but not again.

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