Gov. Ned Lamont recently signed an executive order extending Connecticut’s state of emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic. We undoubtedly remain in a state of emergency, but one component of Connecticut’s pandemic response should not be continued: the travel advisory enacted through Executive Order No. 9S. It requires that anyone traveling into Connecticut from an “Affected State” — any state or territory other than New York, New Jersey, or Rhode Island – quarantine for 10 days or have a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of arrival.
As a physician who has been caring for patients with COVID-19 since last spring, I adhere to and promote regulations that mitigate spread of the virus. I wear a mask, socially distance, forego indoor gatherings, and recommend the same to my patients and my community. When they were first instituted, restrictions on interstate travel were reasonable measures as well. However, unlike other safety regulations that remain in place, I find the continuation of Connecticut’s travel advisory highly irrational, as it does not reflect the reality of the pandemic today and its harms likely far outweigh its benefits.
My husband and I are both medical residents and parents of a 3-year-old son. Like many families, we need help, especially now. We intentionally moved to Connecticut to be closer to family and we are fortunate to receive extensive support from my mother, who lives in Massachusetts. However, the 100 miles between our homes has become an insurmountable distance as a result of Connecticut’s travel advisory.
Ironically, Governor Lamont pointed to the inherent interconnectedness of social and economic networks across borders as the reason he did not restrict travel from other neighboring states in his executive order.
…in recognition of the essential nature and high volume of commerce, family connections, and travel with our neighboring states, and the practical difficulty in enforcement and unacceptable disruption that would result from restricting travel between them and Connecticut, I have worked with the Governors of New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island to coordinate our approach to our states’ travel advisories and self-quarantine requirements;
Publicly available data on COVID-19 directly contradict Connecticut’s regulations: Rhode Island, New York, and New Jersey have consistently had higher case rates than most other states including Connecticut. Earlier in the pandemic it was easier to identify “hot spots” and reducing unnecessary travel to and from those areas made sense. However, I cannot see how current travel restrictions protect Connecticut residents. Rather, I agree with Governor Lamont that the advisory is causing “unacceptable disruption.”
Connecticut’s arbitrary travel restrictions mean that families like mine are being forced to choose between school for our children and the support we need from extended family. Schools and childcare centers understandably rely on the state’s guidelines to inform their own COVID-19 safety policies, and staff and children who travel to or are in contact with visitors from an “Affected State” cannot return to the classroom without quarantining or testing.
Our son would normally have been enrolled in pre-school now, but with our long and unpredictable work hours, we rely on additional help from my mother, who travels back to her home in Massachusetts when we have days off. Just within my own small network I know three other families similarly impacted by the travel advisory; they previously received help from grandparents living in other states and are now struggling to get by without it in order to abide by school regulations. There are undoubtedly countless other Connecticut families facing similar struggles, and I can only imagine the impact this has on teachers, school staff, and essential workers in other fields.
The pandemic continues to morph under our feet and emergency measures to protect the health of our communities must change with it. I have repeatedly witnessed the devastation caused by COVID-19 and as such I typically favor regulations intended to promote safety (i.e. restrictions on indoor dining, which has been demonstrated to be high risk for viral transmission). However, all restrictions come at a cost, and regulations must reasonably translate into a societal benefit in order to justify their deleterious effects.
If Connecticut’s travel advisory reflected the reality of COVID-19 spread and made Connecticut residents safer, its downstream harms would be acceptable, but it simply does not. I urge Governor Lamont to repeal Executive Order No. 9S, which arbitrarily restricts travel across state lines and is doing unnecessary harm to Connecticut families. If, going forward, experts agree that restricting travel remains necessary, at least base the restrictions on reality.
Catherine Mezzacappa MD of Hamden is an internal medicine resident physician at Yale with a background in public health research.