Will State Coronavirus Travel Restrictions Become Permanent?

One of the reasons TSA temperature checks at airports are a bad idea is that they won’t end after the pandemic. They’ll become the new normal.

We still take off our shoes and take out liquids (without precheck) even without active threats.
Temporary restrictions on ‘dangerous’ objects that even the TSA wanted to stop searching for haven’t been able to be overcome because of perception issues, and bureaucracies are inherently conservative (not wanting to be blamed if anything bad happens, since they don’t get credit on the upside). After all, who knows when the next pandemic will be!

New York State now demands that passengers arriving in the state by air “(regardless of their state of residence or whether they have visited any of the blacklisted states) complete and sign a written declaration (Exhibit B to the complaint) about themselves, their business affairs, and their travels.” You can be arrested and fined if you do not comply.

Papers, Please worries that requirements like these could become the new normal, too, even once the pandemic has passed. That’s how this usually works.

In the current circumstances, it’s tempting to give health authorities a free pass for whatever they do, “because pandemic”. But that would be a mistake. We’ve already seen what happened when authorities were given free rein to impose new restrictions on travelers after September 11, 2001, “because terrorism”. Many of those measures had no rational relationship to the prevention of terrorism, were implemented without regard for Constitutional rights, and have become permanent, or effectively so.

How long will the current health emergency last? And will Federal, state, and local government agencies return to their prior practices at airports and borders if and when the emergency is declared to have ended, or will restrictions imposed during the pandemic become the permanent “new normal”?

Ironically these rules do not limit travel into New York from other countries where coronavirus prevalence is greater than it is in New York (and greater than in some states whose arrivals are restricted). And there are no limits on intra-state travel either as people bring the virus from one area of the state to another.

It’s not clear New York’s restrictions have value. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are now doing well, in the case of New York City the virus swept through perhaps 25% – 30% of the population already and is waning with fewer people left to infect (especially once T-cell based cross-immunity from other coronaviruses is taken into account). But other states imposed temporary restrictions earlier – that have since expired – and New York Governor Cuomo smirks at the turnabout.

Hawaii has successfully placed restrictions on arrivals, both out of a need to clamp down on the virus and antipathy towards mainland residents. While there are legal challenges to some of these rules, the ‘crisis’ allows governments to take extraordinary power.

Some of those powers may be needed, but there needs to be a high burden attached to ensuring the powers in question are directly related to the risk at hand, are as limited in scope as possible, and expire as quickly as possible. Yet some will certainly say they need data for contact tracing, that we weren’t ready this time for COVID but if we keep new requirements in place we’ll be ready next time.

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. Per the State health department, there is no “demand” that the form be filled out: “The completion of the questionnaires is voluntary, said health department spokeswoman Jill Montag.

    “There are no penalties for passengers who don’t fill them out,” she said.”

  2. If these BS restrictions last past the pandemic, they’ll eventually be struck down by the courts.

  3. Wait, they’re using paper forms in 2020??! Afterwards are they faxed to Albany then printed out and trucked to Attica prison where prisoners are paid to do data entry?

  4. The serological prevelence in NYC was 1 in 4 back on April 20, 2020. (~25%).

    The exposure rate should be a lot higher now.

    Cuomo can say he “won” most of his state has been exposed, hence the reduction in cases and close burn through the rest of the population.

    Any quarantines are ineffective now in the NE – its all about politics.

    USA should ban Canadians since they can travel here freely but they put a quarantine on all incoming people and dont allow foreign nationals. DOUBLE Standard!

  5. “in the case of New York City the virus swept through perhaps 25% – 30% of the population already and is waning with fewer people left to infect” The numbers I am hearing were studies based on samples that suggested around 19.3% of people have antibodies (granted this was from a study that looked until late april). Some have tried to extrapolate that to 25% but I have never heard it going over 25% from a legitimate source. We still don’t know if having antibodies provides immunity and if so for how long. Some science is now suggesting antibodies are disappearing within weeks/months of recovery. The overall antibody rate for the NY metropolitan area as well as CT, NY, and NJ is way way lower than the limited geographical area of NYC. We are still only in phase 2 in NYC. There are face mask requirements.This is why the numbers went down. Not because there are “fewer people left to infect”. You need like 67% for herd immunity. Many people with means left the city for surrounding areas, so the actual population in NYC decreased quite a bit during the pandemic. The point of all this is that its irrelevant what you think about NYC numbers because we don’t have herd immunity. Also, if you don’t like the travel advisory or associated paperwork that is ok. Many of the people here don’t want people coming from high covid states reinfecting us to begin with, so feel free to stay out of our states until your home state gets the situation under control. We did what we had to do to get these numbers down and don’t need to be forced back into shutdown by some tourists who want to complain about the travel advisory.

  6. @Bill Herd immunity isn’t something you have or your don’t, it’s incremental and linear. Antibodies may decline but T-cells seem to last longer, and may mitigate the virus from past coronavirus exposure too [T-cells are produced less as we age, by the way].

    Late April estimates of infection were as high as almost 25%, and if we’re up to 30% now which is entirely possibly (note I didn’t say we are, just “25% – 30% range”) that plus some natural immunity or cross immunity gets us to a place where the virus declines but doesn’t yet die out.

    There’s nothing to congratulate in how New York ‘battled the virus’ other than letting it sweep through the population and especially nursing homes. 32,000 New Yorkers have died.

  7. Covid-19 is a national problem that needs uniform rules and requirements.

    The New York/Northeast quarantine and forms are what happens when there is no national strategy and leadership (looking at you Trump). States are on their own to come up with whatever they think works. That means potentially 50 different programs being implemented at potentially 50 different times.

    “Ironically these rules do not limit travel into New York from other countries where coronavirus prevalence is greater than it is in New York (and greater than in some states whose arrivals are restricted).”

    States don’t control international travel and borders. That is a federal responsibility. There are already federal travel restrictions in place for certain countries. And of course the US failure has led to many countries banning or restricting travelers from the US. Americans can forget about vacationing in the EU this summer.

    Hong Kong (there are no doubt others jurisdictions) uses paper forms for all passengers arriving or connecting. Hong Kong is a digitally advanced society. Paper forms seem to work there.

    Contact tracing is the best method for shutting down spread. States and the federal government haven’t done squat to trace contacts of the 30,000 – 40,000 people who test positive each day.

    Temperature checks at airports are a good idea. They identify sick people before they get on planes. To say we should stop checking temperatures now because they will be continued when/if the pandemic abates is throwing the baby out with the bath water.

    I agree that no one deserves a pat on the back or a “job well done” celebration yet.

  8. It is not *ironic* that NY’s protection law doesn’t apply to other countries, as that is a power reserved to the Federal government by the Constitution. And yet Trump is banning visitors from Continental Europe, where COVID-19 is under control, and China, where it’s almost inexistent!

    The regulation in NYC is both pragmatic and necessary, as long as it automatically sunsets. The way it’s done by the Feds needs to be fixed, and Europeans/Chinese must be allowed automatically.

  9. @ Alex, I’m not sure what you mean. By instituting these travel restrictions on who enters and under what conditions, theses states just instituted border controls. Just as Texas, Florida and other states did.

  10. Exactly, and they did it under the guise of health concerns. They will be most-likely stricken down in court.

  11. States began restrictions like this months ago. If anyone thinks states lack the power, they should definitely go for it in court.

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