Interstate Travel Restrictions Are Just Political Posturing

We should feel free to ignore travel restrictions imposed by political clowns using the public as pawns in their feuds.


We've come a long way from the March day when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo threatened to sue Rhode Island over restrictions on travelers from his pandemic-hotspot state. Now, questions about reasonableness and legality are out the window as New York joins with Connecticut and New Jersey to effectively close their borders to people from states more recently hard-hit by COVID-19.

There's a strong hint of tit-for-tat in a move that has little to do with health and a lot to do with regional and political posturing in a not-so-united country. The interstate chest-puffing might have some entertainment value, but Americans shouldn't feel any obligation to obey the pointless rules.

"New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, and Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont today announced a joint incoming travel advisory that all individuals traveling from states with significant community spread of COVID-19 quarantine for a 14-day period from the time of last contact within the identified state," the three governors jointly announced on June 24. The advisory isn't toothless, either, with New York threatening violators with a fine of up to $10,000.

As of June 28, the quarantine orders apply to travelers from Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah.

Well, they apply to most travelers, but "do not apply to any individual passing through designated states for a limited duration (i.e., less than 24 hours) through the course of travel." That's a recognition of the impracticality of restricting the wanderings of the many businesspeople who keep those states prosperous, the medical professionals from elsewhere who treat their pandemic patients, and the transport of food, medicine, and other necessities across borders so that life can be maintained. But those unavoidable exceptions are a big flaw in travel restrictions.

"Such policies, health experts say, don't take into account truck drivers, airline workers, people transporting necessary supplies and equipment or those who just slip across state lines," The Hill noted last month in a critical examination of travel restrictions as a tactic for containing disease.

Among those skeptical health experts are the authors of a 2014 review of the literature on the effectiveness of internal and international travel restrictions published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization. They determined that internal travel restrictions delay pandemic influenza spread by about one week, and the peak of pandemics by about one and a half weeks.

"Only extensive travel restrictions—i.e. over 90%—had any meaningful effect on reducing the magnitude of epidemics" at both the domestic and international levels, they concluded. Restrictions are not recommended at all once a pandemic is established globally.

With regard to the current situation, Science reported in April that China's domestic travel restrictions "only delayed epidemic progression by 3 to 5 days within China" and that "early detection, hand washing, self-isolation, and household quarantine will likely be more effective than travel restrictions at mitigating this pandemic."

That makes it difficult to justify travel restrictions imposed to keep potential COVID-19 patients out of states that already have hundreds of thousands of reported cases of the disease and tens of thousands of deaths. A few virus cases journeying from Miami to Brooklyn really won't make a difference now.

Legally, the status of domestic travel restrictions is a little vague. Americans enjoy protection for wide-ranging freedom of movement under the Constitution. That said, "courts have typically upheld [quarantines and travel bans] in deference to the states' broad powers to protect public health," according to Northeastern University's Wendy Parmet and Dr. Michael S. Sinha of the Harvard-MIT Center for Regulatory Science in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Legal or not, "these old tools are usually of limited utility for highly transmissible diseases, and if imposed with too heavy a hand, or in too haphazard a manner, they can be counterproductive," warn Parmet and Sinha.

So, with COVID-19 well-established across the U.S., travel restrictions are expected to be something between ineffective and counterproductive, though probably resistant to legal challenge. What's the case for them, then?

Finger-pointing at other states, quarantine mandates, and threats of penalties make more sense if you toss away all of the medical language and view them in the context of political theater. It's always tempting for government officials befuddled by a crisis and busily making it worse to deflect attention from their own failings by pointing to external enemies. In an increasingly fractious time, those enemies can be found within the borders of the same country, residing in another state, and perhaps affiliated with an opposing political faction.

We saw northeastern governors screaming in March about travel restrictions imposed by other states, only to turn around months later and impose quarantine orders on travelers from many of the same jurisdictions. It gets even sillier when you remember that New York's health commissioner, Howard Zucker, vowed on March 25 that "I would not follow" quarantine directives aimed at residents of his state. Now Zucker's department administers his own state's quarantine order.

Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York, the Democrat-led states issuing the current travel restrictions, were at the center of the "multi-state council" announced in April to establish pandemic policy independent of the Republican Trump administration. Most of the states targeted in the joint travel advisory are Republican-led and had earlier targeted the northeastern states with their own quarantine orders (though Rhode Island which fired the initial salvo against New York has a Democratic governor who, returning to the fold, later joined the multi-state council).

This is less about public health than it is about political warfare. And the major victims of this warfare are, as always, regular people who have little say in policymaking and are just trying to muddle as best they can through a very difficult time.

Travel restrictions rarely inconvenience the politically powerful, but they hobble suffering people who need access to friends, family members, and jobs across state lines.

Given the extremely limited degree to which public health plays a role in these travel restrictions and the enormous burdens they place on people's lives and liberty, Americans who need to go from one state to another should feel fully justified in ignoring such rules. That doesn't mean officials won't try to catch violators, but with state borders often little more than invisible lines perforated by multiple backroads, it's easy enough to evade detection if you keep a low profile. Importantly, stay away from anybody who might inform the authorities, such as hotels and car rental agencies.

In a time of pandemic, people should act responsibly to reduce their vulnerability to infection and, especially, to limit the risk they pose to others. But acting responsibly doesn't mean there's any obligation to submit to travel restrictions imposed by political clowns using the public as pawns in their feuds.

NEXT: As New Lockdowns Loom, How Did We Get Here Again So Quickly?

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  1. To save American lives, America needs to be shut down* until a vaccine is discovered and supplied to all Americans, including undocumented Americans.
    *exceptions should be granted for BlackLivesMatter and BlackTransLivesMatter rallies

    1. What about TransBlackLivesMatter?

    2. Oh, come on! I can understand being slow to re-open, and I think that people from states that are the most infested with the Covid-19 virus who don't reside in given states, should be restricted from interstate traveling, for now.

      as for a vaccine--I wouldn't get too much hope for it too soon. It could be years, and the longer America gets shut down, the worse the overall situation's going to get. Also, making exceptions for BlackLivesMatter and BlackTranslivesMatter rallies, or any other rallies, for that matter, is a fool's errand.

  2. I call upon every truck driver in the USA who does not live in New York to refuse to drive into, or through New York until after the resignation or recall of Andrew Cuomo.
    (And I invite those drivers who live in New York to pack the truck with their household and leave)

    1. I call upon every Muslim airline pilot to wage jihad against the Babylon of the modern world. Two towers were not enough to teach New York a lesson.

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    2. I feel like every time Cuomo's name is mentioned, it should be qualified as "Noted Gradma-killer Andrew Cuomo," and "not to be confused with apologist clown Chris Cuomo."

      1. You mean Andrew "The Hero of the Pandemic" Cuomo, the darling of Progressives for his great actions against the coronavirus (despite the fact that his state has the highest death rate per capita - way over the U.S. average)?

  3. Finger-pointing at other states, quarantine mandates, and threats of penalties make more sense if you toss away all of the medical language and view them in the context of political theater. It's always tempting for government officials befuddled by a crisis and busily making it worse to deflect attention from their own failings by pointing to external enemies.

    Hard to believe there are people who still cling to their faith in government, who believe that we didn't utter the mystical incantations just right or perform the ritual sacrifices in just the prescribed manner to propitiate the Gods of the Politeia and this is why the magic didn't happen. How many times must the government fail to produce desirable outcomes in a timely, efficient, practical manner before people realize that you're asking a fruit basket to knit you a sweater? It's not these particular people in this particular setting that have failed you, failure is inherent in the nature of the beast. Stop expecting it to do otherwise.

    1. Next time will be different. They learned from their mistakes. Also, wreckers interfered with their plans.

      1. It's wreckers and kulaks all the way down.

    2. We just need the Right Top Men to make the Trains Run On Time.

    3. ‘Hard to believe there are people who still cling to their faith in government . . .’. I have never understood this phenomenon, and probably never will. And it is not just a few people, but a majority. And a seemingly bigger majority with each passing government failure.

    4. The virus got to Florida likely via a traveler from the NE corridor. They were fleeing what they knew was going to be a fiasco.

    5. Interesting comment. Government (the State) owes NO DUTY to protect its citizens from one another. DeShaney v. Winnebago County, 489 U.S. 189 (1989). That means you can go out and kill thugs, bullies and others in self-defense, because the state and/or its municipal & county subdivisions will not protect you. It's happening in Blue states where they are telling the police to stand down in protecting you while rioters, looters & murderers are allowed to roam free and destroy Blue States & Blue Cities.

    6. The expectation is whatever will crush America, three cheers. When I realized leftists supported gay marriage due to the expectation it'll bring down America, I realized I had been dancing with the enemy. The only difference between Marxists and religious nuts is the name they give their gods and devils.

  4. I'm curious if this is even legal. isn't there some right to movement and association and maybe teh commerce clause etc.

    1. Article IV, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution states:
      “The citizens of each state shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states.”
      This (should) mean that a state cannot apply laws or regulations based on state of origin. This was a problem among the colonies that the founders wanted to avoid.
      So unless those states are also applying the same criteria for travel within their own state, they cannot be applying such laws or regulations exclusively on interstate travel. Of course no doubt there are probably court rulings that somehow ignored or re-interpreted or somehow invented qualifiers to that constitutional prohibition.

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  6. BTW has anybody wondered about this situation where Russia put a price on American soldiers heads.
    Hasn't that always been the case in every conflict making it a none issue since the people who would get paid are already trying to kill them?

    1. Ron, I'd always thought it was just "all in the game." Russia isn't a friend of the US, and only rarely even has shared interests with the US. It's not surprising at all that they would get caught paying militiamen to try and kill US personnel. The US certainly paid and supported enough mujahedeen in killing Soviet soldiers, back in the bad old days of Afghanistan.

      The US hasn't hardly ever cracked back on other countries for supporting irregular fighters in their efforts to fight Americans. Soleimani excepted. And he was doing it for decades, if you believe he was one of the helpers and gofers who helped out in taking William Buckley apart in the early 80s.

      How much Saudi/GC money and support has gone into building up anti-government militants in KP? Building bases, supplying ordnance, materiel, indoctrination, goes on and on. We generally don't make a public stink about that either.

      And if we're just looking at Syria, the US is doing quite a bit better in the 'kill Russians' game, than the Russians are at killing Americans. Ask Wagner Group.

      Double the sanctions on Russia, if there's anything left to sanction that we actually want to buy from Russia. Otherwise, what would the people bitching about this, like the US to actually do? We're not going to war with Russia. Do they want diplomatic relations cut? Do they want Russian nationals expelled from the US? Do they want a stern diplomatic note read to Russia at the UN General Assembly? What do they want?

      1. Fucking italics tags.

      2. Joe Biden is dominating the polls... but they're flogging the Russia boogeyman again with anonymous sources.
        Makes one wonder...

        1. Biden dominates the "fake polls". According to Rasmussen, 28% of blacks support Trump. If Trump gets at least 20% of the black vote, Democrats cannot win the election.

    2. I haven't put a ton of thought into it, just because I've only briefly heard about it, and everything I hear these days I have to take with a grain of salt.

      I would say that it's a rather ugly look, diplomatically. When the US was supporting the mujahideen, they could always frame it as supporting their independence. If Russia put a bounty on dead Americans, it's hard to frame that as anything other than "we want dead Americans."

      But as for what to do about it, that's sticky. It would be nice if the European allies could join in and offer a strong condemnation of Russia, if that's the case. I wouldn't hold my breath since all they did when Russia occupied the Crimea six years ago was to issue a "that was not very nice" statement.

  7. They are for now. But suppose that Ron Baily is right and we are just a decade or two away from self driving car Nirvana. The only reason these restrictions are a joke is because the personal vehicle makes them impossible to enforce. Get rid of human driving and have us all transported around prisoners of Big Tech and these restrictions would no longer be a joke. The government could just send some code out to everyone's robot car that restricts it from crossing state lines. And that would be it unless you planned to walk.

    It would be nice if the sort of Libertarian who is seduced by any sort of shinny new technology would ever put these sorts of things together. But that is likely wishful thinking. As it is, thank God you can drive your own car and pray that skeptics like me are right about the absurdity of fully autonomous cars.

    1. Self-driving cars also have to worry about BLM enthusiasts blocking the road and bringing the car to a halt. Then they can destroy the car and rob any passengers.

      1. Yes they do or criminals in general. Stopping and robbing self driving cars would be a very good criminal enterprise.

        1. You forgot "...and murdering the occupants in cars".

    2. The government could just send some code out to everyone’s robot car that restricts it from crossing state lines.

      As hyperbolic as this sounds, this is exactly where we're going. We've seen this type of thing already within the Tesla ecosystem. Things you were able to do with your car yesterday, you're mysteriously not able to do today, because Tesla does an OTA and a feature is gone, changed, or they just de-person your car's VIN in the central network, and no more super-charging for you.

      Imagine buying an old Ford truck that won't let you fill up at the gas station. It's always helpful to remember that features and options move both directions in the tech utopia.

      1. It is not hyperbolic at all. It only sounds that way if you don't understand how the tech would work and how the government would inevitably abuse it.

        1. Libertarians have a huge blindspot when it comes to tech. Any time some new technological paradigm looms on the horizon, anyone who stands up and says, "Hang on, un momento, einen moment!" you're dismissed as un-libertarian and trying to hold on to the horse and buggy.

          The celebration that your self-driving car can automatically be routed around traffic, construction or 'danger' zones never seems acknowledge the government could simply geofence your travel.

          There's nothing un-libertarian as wanting to maintain control of your personal travel, even if it means something as archaic as holing onto a steering wheel and pressing pedals on the floor.

          1. They have an enormous blind spot about tech. If you really take the proposition that personal freedom is the most important value, then it is possible that some technology should be rejected. Being a full on Luddite is not only consistent with Libertarian thought but likely in some cases required. That idea is just too horrible for most of them to contemplate. They would rather be slaves if slavery came wrapped in the garb of shinny technology and comfort.

            1. As a tech optimist, it isn't that I refuse to see this as a possibility. It is that I see the problem as primarily a government one, to start. It is the government who will outlaw human driving. It is the government who will load up regulations on self driving, such that the cars are too expensive for any of us to afford. And then autonomous cars will basically be a per-use or subscription service. And then you will have a couple of companies that are beholden to the government for some franchise fee.

              In essence the battle that will come over autonomous driving is the same battle that is being fought right now over encryption. The tech is here, whether you like it or not, and the government is trying to regulate it in a way that increases their ability to control us.

              The only hope we have to defeat their takeover of cars will be the same as with encryption: that other technologies make government control harder to achieve.

              1. It is certainly partially a government problem. But the government is not going to go away and it's actions are pretty foreseeable. So, you can't just assume "well we will get the government not to do that" because chances are you won't.

                Also, the confluence of corporations with some help from the government in the form of tort law could make self driving cars just as mandatory for most people as they would be if the government passed a law. Ultimately, their benefits are far exceeded by their likely cost in civil liberties and freedom.

          2. Any time some new technological paradigm looms on the horizon, anyone who stands up and says, “Hang on, un momento, einen moment!” you’re dismissed as un-libertarian and trying to hold on to the horse and buggy.

            It's called Progressivism and it doesn't matter if you're libertarian or not. If credentialed and educated self-driving car enthusiasts tell you that self-driving cars will reduce congestion, commute times, and *parking* without actually reducing the number of drivers/commuters or the vehicular footprint per driver, you're a stodgy conservative for believing in things like math and the laws of physics.

            You just don't understand that when science smacks you across the face, it's because you don't love it enough.

        2. Not just the government.

          The tech companies, and their journolist fanbois, will tell you "you can still choose to turn it off." And you can, except that your 'private' insurance company will say it is a safety device and de-activation voids your policy protections.

          Libertarians rejoice.

          1. Along with having a huge blind spot for tech, Libertarians in some cases have a huge blind spot for the threat to freedom created by large corporations. It does no good to have the legal freedom to do something if a cartel of large corporations makes doing it economically impossible for all but the very wealthy. Your insurance company telling you that you can't do something has the same effect as the government banning it. In fact, the insurance company might be worse since they often can enforce their rules more consistently than governments.

            But the "if you don't like it start your own Twitter" types can never seem to grasp that and think any tyranny is fine just so long as it is corporate run tyranny.

            1. How quickly libertarians forget the biggest tyrannies in American history were committed by private actors, slavery and Indian genocide.

              1. Private actors supported by:
                Slavery---laws against escaped slaves and their helpers.
                Indians---the U.S. army and laws against selling them firearms.

          2. This is true, but that's a problem mostly caused by the fact that car insurance is mandated by law. That's a government problem more than an insurance problem. You can let people make their own decisions about their risk factors and let insurance companies compete for their business.

            Car insurance isn't exactly a government-operated monopoly, but regulations on car ownership are pure crony capitalism.

      2. Didn't we see a similar thing awhile back with Amazon, when George Orwell's heirs got ornery about licensing his works, and Amazon yanked some paid for works out of people's Kindle libraries. Talk about irony. They issued refunds, but still.

        Mea culpa for linking to a Gawker-rag:

      3. They will only deplatform bad people. If private companies do it, there's no violation of your rights. If government imposes it, you will still have freedom of movement, by foot, so no foul. Either way, shut up prole.

        1. That is because your "rights" come from the government and therefore can only be violated by the government.

          This is what some people actually seem to believe.

          1. It definitely seems to be the prevailing philosophy at Reason.

      4. If gov't can send out codes to cars (and they do it already through ONSTAR and other satellite computer programs in cars) to restrict them from crossing state lines, gov't can make political undesirables '(deplorables') cars veer into oncoming traffic, or cross RR tracks into oncoming trains. It has happened already.

    3. You what other restrictions tech like that would make it easy to implement? Carbon restrictions. An internet of things incorporating your household will help that too.

      The goal is to keep the modern proletariat class as serfs, tied to a manor. Modern weapons, armor, and AI tech will make it like the men-at-arms class versus everyone else, like it was the last time we tried feudalism.

      1. A hyper-connected world has its downsides.

        1. But it makes for it by having literally no measurable benefits. Yeah, let's give up all of our privacy and autonomy so my refrigerator will tell me I am about out of milk, because opening the door and seeing I am is just too much work or something.

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  8. It's always tempting for government officials befuddled by a crisis and busily making it worse to deflect attention from their own failings by pointing to external enemies.

    Replace always tempting with de rigueur.

  9. eh, didn't have an overpowering need to travel to New York anyway.

    But I would invite the governors of New York, Connecticut and New Jersey to come on down to Texas. Maybe get some barbecue, visit a gun range, breath deep of the Saharan dust.

    1. Never saw anyone from Florida, Texas, or North Carolina wanting to retire to New York, New Jersey or Connecticut.

  10. New York is named after a slave trader so anything they say is cancelled.

  11. It's amusing watching the concept of Open Borders sitting on its knees, blindfolded as Democrats execute it with a pistol shot to the head.

    And to think they were once friends!

    1. They are happy to keep you from crossing state lines but will do nothing to stop someone from crossing the border from Mexico. Basically, unless you are an illegal alien wanting an abortion or a government funded sex change operation, the Democrats don't think you have any rights.

  12. >>This is less about public health than it is about political warfare.

    well yeah. public health is fake and political warfare is perpetual.

  13. Interstate Travel Restrictions Are Just Political Posturing

    Do illegal viruses even need ladders to climb walls?

  14. To prove it's political you need look no further than the fact that they didn't include CA in their ban.
    CA has the highest rate of new cases.

    1. But they have the right kind of people there.

  15. This is obviously a nakedly political move. I can't help but notice that California was left off of the list even though it has seen the largest increase in total cases recently, though not the largest increase as a percentage of population. Isn't it the increase in total cases that should be relevant in such a move if it was for public health considerations?

  16. Covid deaths per 100,000:
    New York: 161
    Arizona: 22 /Alabama: 19/Arkansas: 9/Florida: 16/Texas: 8/North Carolina: 13/South Carolina: 14/Utah:5

  17. Cuomo is a major hypocrite. He railed against Rhode Island for doing the exact same thing to cars with NY tags. Notice that all the states on his list are Red States with fewer infections and deaths than NY? Yet California and Massachusetts are not on the list. Pure politics.

    1. I noticed that NY has the highest COVID-19 death rate of _any_ state. The only thing Cuomo's travel restrictions might do to slow the spread of the virus is to prevent residents of other states from visiting and then going home with an infection - but that's pointless if New Yorkers can leave the state.

  18. Yeah, I fear we are living in pre-civil war times. Only with a renewed commitment to federalism (i.e. letting states make their own laws) can we avoid the bloodshed which will come when one set of ethics and cultural norms is imposed by force on one part of the country by another. Federalism, an amicable divorce, or civil war. Those are our choices. The scary thing is the third option is the default future if adults do not figure out how to resolve things peacefully.

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  20. To be fair to Connecticut, as of today there is no plan to enforce the ban legally.

  21. Utah?? LOL! Why don't they just say no red states.

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