Is It Safe to Travel in the U.S. Right Now?

Airlines Face Significant Losses As Businesses Restrict Travel Due To COVID-19
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As of March 30, more than 693,000 people around the world have been infected with COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, with cases starting to spread rapidly within the United States. As of the afternoon of March 30, there were 140,904 confirmed cases and 2,405 deaths across the country, spread across all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Marianas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The most significant outbreaks have occurred in Washington State, California, and New York.

Bans and Business Shutdowns in the U.S.

On March 16, President Trump urged people to avoid discretionary travel for the next 15 days. There are, however, some localized restrictions. In New Rochelle, New York, for instance, there is a containment zone of a one-mile in radius (it’s centered around a synagogue thought to be the epicenter of a cluster of cases). Several cities and states have closed down non-essential businesses, limited bars and restaurants to takeout and delivery only, and enacted official bans on large events or gatherings of any number. Others have taken those directives a step farther by instating stay-at-home mandates (meaning residents are only allowed to leave home for essential needs and must practice social distancing en route).

Governmental Travel Advisories and Restrictions

On March 19, the U.S. State Department issued a global "Level 4: Do Not Travel" advisory, discouraging all travel abroad. It also has urged that any U.S. citizens currently abroad return home now or stay in place. At this point, the government has not issued any travel restrictions or bans specifically on domestic travel, but that could change at any point as federal officials are considering all options to contain the spread of the virus, including halting all domestic flights.

The Europe travel ban remains. On March 14, President Trump expanded the previously announced ban (one that covered 26 countries within Europe's Schengen Area) to also include Ireland and the United Kingdom. The restrictions do not apply U.S. citizens, their immediate families, and permanent residents, but rather to non-residents who have visited the following countries—Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherland, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom—in the last 14 days.

When the first part of the travel ban was announced on March 11, the White House made the following statement: "The free flow of people between the Schengen Area countries makes the task of managing the spread of the virus difficult." Initial restrictions began on at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, March 13, 2020, and Ireland and the United Kingdom were added shortly after that.

President Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have also agreed to close the U.S.-Canada border for non-essential travel for an indefinite amount of time.

Airline, Train, Bus, and Ride-Sharing Services

All major U.S. airlines, Amtrak, and most bus operators have waived change fees, allowing travelers to rebook travel for a later date. They have also, however, scaled back operations due to decreased demand, meaning that your flight, train, or bus service may be canceled. Check with your travel provider for specific details. If you have travel insurance, keep in mind that most plans do not cover epidemics or pandemics, so read the fine print carefully.

While mass transit is still operating in all major cities, it is advised to avoid traveling via them if possible. “If you can, move to a train car that is not as dense. If you see a packed train car, let it go by, wait for the next train. Same if you’re taking a bus,” said New York governor Andrew Cuomo during a press conference. “It’s the density, the proximity that we’re trying to reduce.”

Uber and Lyft also announced on March 17 that they will be suspending the carpooling options of their services (in which you'd share a car with another rider headed in the same direction) in the U.S. and Canada as part of the social distancing efforts; the regular ride-hailing service and the food delivery options are still available, but passengers will now see alerts when they open the app to consider limiting their travel to necessary rides only.

Attractions Closures and Event Cancellations

Sporting events across the country have been canceled or postponed, including those of the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, golf events (the 2020 Masters is postponed), college basketball and football, and Major League Soccer. The Kentucky Derby (originally May 2) has been rescheduled to take place September 5, and the International Olympic Committee member announced that the Olympics in Tokyo will be postponed, but be rescheduled for a time no later than summer 2021.

Many major events across the U.S. have been either postponed or canceled, including the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, the Ultra Music Festival in Miami, and Coachella music festival in southern California, which has been postponed until October. These events, and many like it, will not be offering refunds, so think twice about buying tickets to major events happening in the near future.

Many museums, fitness centers, movie theaters, and other entertainment venues have begun to close across the country. Broadway theaters announced March 12 that they would close through April 12; Walt Disney World and Disneyland are closed indefinitely, Universal Orlando Resort is closed through April 19, Legoland in Orlando is closed through April 14, and Six Flags parks across the country are closed until mid-May.

Should You Travel in the U.S. Right Now?

In short: no, not right now. You should avoid all nonessential travel. While most people who contract COVID-19 will likely recover. It’s most dangerous to the elderly and those with compromised immune systems; however hospitals are seeing an increasing number of younger people being admitted as well. The major issue is spreading the disease—even if you’re a relatively healthy individual with little chance of dying from COVID-19, you will become a carrier if you are infected. Even if you don't show symptoms, you could spread the virus to someone with a weakened immune system. Thus, containment and avoiding non-essential travel is key.

And if you were to travel for leisure reasons right now, it's likely that your destination could be affected by closures of all or most businesses, attractions, and activities, so it's best to plan for a later time. If you must travel, though, be sure to regularly wash your hands vigorously with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and avoid touching your face. Use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol when you do not have access to soap and water.

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