We knew it was coming. We heard rumors and hints for weeks. And we were already aware of the January 26th date of requiring negative COVID-19 test results before boarding a flight to the US. But now it is official: an Executive Order has been released mandating quarantine after entering the US.
While the details of how this order will be policed is still in question, we should have more information soon. Some may argue that mandatory quarantine is a ridiculous flex of power. Others may argue that it is a necessary evil to finally slow the spread of the virus. Regardless of your stance, it is fairly obvious that the turn of events is life-altering to a lot of people--and pretty devastating to those in the travel and tourism industry.
For simplicity's sake, I've broken the order down to some to the nuts and bolts, below. As it stands, here is a brief summary of the Executive Order on Promoting COVID-19 Safety in Domestic and International Travel:
Section 1. Policy.
Basically, this section emphasizes the importance of mask-wearing, physical distancing, ventilation, and testing. Nothing too ground-breaking that we haven't heard for the past year or so. Now it is being mandated on public modes of transportation and at ports of entry to the US.
Sec. 2. Mask-Wearing Required on Certain Domestic Modes of Transportation
Section 2 specifies that masks are required to be worn in the following settings:
- commercial aircraft
- public maritime vessels, such as ferries
- bus services
- other forms of public transportation defined in US Code
Sec. 3. & Sec. 4.
These sections call for heads of divisions and departments to make recommendations about how their respective agencies can improve public health for domestic travel.
Sec. 5. International Travel
This is where it gets a bit dicey and where most of the impactful changes take place. Basically, anyone entering the US from a foreign country shall be:
- required to provide a recent negative COVID-19 test
- required to self-quarantine or self-isolate after entry into the US, adhering to lengths of time determined by CDC guidelines (details still TBD)
Now, this can be read two different ways. One way is that self-quarantine or self-isolation is "recommended". The way I read it, and the way I believe it is intended to read, is that travelers will be "required to follow CDC recommendations", including any self-quarantine and self-isolation. The "recommended" part is simply the length of time quarantine will last.
This section continues to specify the timeframe regarding the CDC order of January 12, 2021 of requiring negative COVID-19 test results for airline passengers traveling into the US. There are a lot of "stay-tuned" points in this section that do not provide much information as of now, such as:
- timing, types, and requirements of COVID-19 tests
- proof of test result requirements
- alternative health measures for travelers coming from countries where tests are not readily available
- ways to prevent fraud
Sec. 5 also calls for the prompt submission to the President from relevant agencies for a plan on how the CDC-recommended periods of self-quarantine or self-isolation can be implemented in an appropriate and legal manner. More information to come once that plan has been submitted.
Airline guidelines provided by relevant agencies, such as quarantine, testing, vaccination, symptom monitoring, air filtration requirements, contact tracing, and decontamination standards are also sought out. Similarly, health measures, guidelines, and plans at land ports of entry and sea ports of entry are also to be submitted to the President.
Finally--and this has been a consistent rumor as well--this section mentions "International Certificates of Vaccination or Prophylaxis". The feasibility of linking COVID-19 vaccination to International Certificates of Vaccination is to be explored. In other words, while it is not yet a reality for vaccination to be required for travel, it is definitely moving in that direction. More information on that to come, I'm sure.
Conclusion to Executive Order to Quarantine after Entering the US
So, there you have it. While we still do not know the recommended timeframe (7 days? 10 days? 14 days?), we know that the information is coming soon. It looks like February 4th if using the timeline of two weeks from the time the order was released. The time is coming where it will be mandatory to quarantine after entering the US from a foreign country (on a side note, it is understood, at least to this point, that US territories such as Puerto Rico do not fall under the same requirements as foreign countries). How will this Executive Order be successfully enacted and policed? Your guess is as good as mine.