In this virtual briefing, we examine travel limits in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The discussion breaks down what powers the government has to restrict entry into states and issue stay-at-home orders, and how policies should be designed to protect public health and while also safeguarding the fundamental rights critical to democratic society.
Some key takeaways include:
- Ability to travel is not just a convenience or important part of daily life, it is a constitutional right that the government cannot universally revoke.
- Public health—including setting limits on travel—is an area in which state and local governments have much more power than the president and the federal government.
- Restricting travel will not necessarily aid public health and reduce the spread of the pandemic; we need to focus on expert recommendations and should ideally enact policies tailored to the particular situation, such as robust testing and contact tracing.
- In order to both protect public health and preserve civil liberties, it’s critical measures have a clear rationale and be narrowly tailored.
- We’ve seen some court challenges to travel restrictions, but on a limited scale; if less socially accepted prohibitions are put into place, it could lead to more vociferous legal objections.
- It’s vital that Americans not see the incredible encroachment on rights due to COVID-19 as the new normal. This is a novel virus that is highly transmissible and ten times more deadly than the flu. It created a perfect storm that necessitated an unprecedented response.