A travel ban means that individuals from a certain area aren’t allowed to enter or leave an area. In the case of the travel bans put into place by the Trump administration, this means that individuals coming from various parts of the world are not permitted to enter the United States for a set period of time, which is currently set at 30 days. The list of countries that travel is banned from is growing and presently includes China and a good portion of European countries, including the United Kingdom and Ireland. The bans on European countries caused panic as they were initially unclear and many Americans rushed to try to get home. The Trump administration did clarify that restrictions do not apply to American citizens, permanent residents or many of their families` who are trying to return home. However, the State Department issued a statement on March 19th stating that unless Americans who are currently abroad are planning to remain that way for an indefinite period of time, then they should return home immediately.

Travel bans are most effective if they’re implemented early in the process when it comes to a disease outbreak. The issue is that once community spread is happening, then travel bans are no longer effective. At this point, the opportunity for the US to benefit from travel bans passed several weeks before they were implemented. This means that by the time the travel bans were put into place there was already community spread in many locations throughout the US. So, the likelihood of new cases coming from Europe versus those originating in the US is very small.

At this point, the thing to do that would be more beneficial would be to put into place domestic travel restrictions, experts say. Some areas are putting into place restrictions against non-essential travel, which begs the question, “What is essential travel?” Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear answer. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) leaves it up to the individual to determine what is essential versus non-essential. Usually, essential travel means to get groceries/food, pick up medical supplies/medication, get gas for your vehicle or to check on family members. The issue is that rules can vary significantly by city, county and state, which can make it very confusing.

Will these restrictions on non-essential travel work? Let’s take a look at China. Officials in China tried to limit travel in and out of Wuhan by locking it down. These actions didn’t stop the virus from spreading, but only slowed by 3 to 5 days depending on which model you look at. By the time the orders were put into place, the virus had already made its way to other major cities in China and places across the globe. This means that most likely the travel bans have little or no impact on the spread of COVID-19.