Domestic Holiday Travel Pandemic Restrictions and Recommendations

November 23, 2020 | Maggie Davis

The 2020 holiday season is coinciding with a nationwide surge of COVID-19 cases. With great concern that holiday travel to see loved ones may exacerbate community spread of the virus, many states are increasing public health measures before the winter holiday season. In mid-November, California, Michigan, Oregon, and Washington state re-instituted closures of indoor dining, while Utah instituted its first statewide mask order. Effective November 14, Vermont restricted gatherings of any size to only individuals from the same household.

States have not returned to the strict stay-at-home orders seen in the spring, although the Navajo Nation—which covers portions of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah—entered a new lockdown on Nov. 16 due to uncontrolled spread of the virus. Several states have instituted quarantine requirements for out-of-state visitors to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, while permitting both essential and non-essential travel.

As of Nov. 16, 13 states and D.C. had a quarantine requirement for out-of-state travelers. Some states, like Alaska, require any traveler entering the state to either self-quarantine for 14 days or to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of traveling to the state. Other states have linked quarantine restrictions to the level of COVID-19 community spread within the traveler’s originating state.

For example, New Jersey requires travelers from areas with either an average daily case count greater than 10 per 100,000 residents—or a 10% positivity rate—over a seven-day period to self-quarantine for 14 days. Recently, five states strongly discouraged interstate travel for the holidays, stopping short of instituting official travel restrictions. While the remaining states do not have a statewide travel restriction some cities, like Chicago, have established local travel restrictions.

The U.S. territories also have instituted travel restrictions to limit the spread of COVID-19. Many of the territories, like Puerto Rico, require a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of travel to the jurisdiction or a 14-day self-quarantine. Others have stronger restrictions, such as the Marshall Islands which suspended all international travel and limited some domestic air travel on international airlines within the territory. Requirements for safe travel vary greatly among the states and territories, with the following general types of requirements or recommendations as of Nov. 16:

  • Suspended incoming international travel and limited domestic air travel (MH)
  • 14-day self-quarantine for all travelers (FM, GU)
  • Self-quarantine for all travelers coming from other states or proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours. (AK, AS, HI, ME, MP, PR, PW, VI, VT)
  • Self-quarantine for travelers coming from non-neighboring states. (NH, NY)
  • Self-quarantine for travelers coming from areas with greater than 5% positivity rate. (MA, NM, RI)
  • Self-quarantine for travelers coming from areas with greater than 10% positivity rate. (CT, DC, NJ)
  • Self-quarantine for travelers coming from areas with greater than 15% positivity rate. (KY)
  • Self-quarantine for travelers arriving from specific list of states or activities. (KS)
  • State urges, but does not require, self-quarantine for out of state visitors. (CA, OH, OR, PA, WA)
  • No statewide travel restrictions. (AL, AZ, AR, CO, DE, FL, GA, ID, IL, IN, IA, LA, MD, MI, MN, MS, MO, MT, NE, NV, NC, ND, OK, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, WV, WI, WY)

In addition to state and local travel restrictions, the CDC issued holiday guidance. A Nov. 19 guidance update noted the nationwide rise of COVID-19 cases and identified celebrations with members from the same household as the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving. If choosing to travel for any holiday, the CDC encourages travelers to consider:

  • Whether the community they are in, or traveling to, has high or increasing levels of COVID-19 cases.
  • The mode of transportation taken. Nonstop trips in a personal vehicle offer the lowest risk and air travel with layovers are the highest risk.
  • The location, size, and duration of the gathering.
  • The behaviors of attendees prior to the gathering, including adherence to mask wearing and social distancing.
  • The behaviors of attendees during the gathering, such as mask wearing or the use of alcohol or drugs during the event.

As the public health conditions in states evolve, public health officials widely encourage hosting virtual holiday events or limiting gatherings to only those within the same household in lieu of travel. For those planning to travel for the holidays, it is strongly encouraged to maintain awareness of the specific state and local public health guidance—such as state limiting gatherings to only those within the same household—for both their home and destination.