Families trying to squeeze in a summer vacation before school starts better do some homework on COVID-19 restrictions before loading up the minivan.
The web of state and local quarantines is growing more tangled by the day: New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have ordered visitors from a whopping 34 states to quarantine for 14 days. Chicago and Washington, D.C., have each singled out travelers from about two dozen states. Other states have their own lists. Some have an option for visitors to get tested instead.
“Complicated doesn’t begin to describe it. I feel sorry for people. They just want to go to Cape Cod. They want to go to Vermont. I don’t know what to tell them. People are pretty much left on their own to figure out,” said Kathy Kutrubes, owner of a travel agency in Boston.
The restrictions — and maybe the confusion, too — are contributing to a sharp drop in travel, dealing a blow to a key industry.
Before the outbreak, Americans were expected to take 2.3 billion domestic trips this year, according to the U.S. Travel Association. But that’s expected expected to drop about 30% to 1.6 billion, the lowest level since 1991. Normally nearly a third of domestic travel happens in the summer.
Abroad, a drop-off in tourism from U.S. visitors and restrictions on crossing borders have also led many travel-related businesses to wonder if they will survive.
The coronavirus is blamed for more than 150,000 deaths in the U.S. and more than a half-million elsewhere around the world.
When it comes to travel restrictions in the U.S., the situation varies widely. Many states have no restrictions whatsoever for domestic travel. But the number of states with quarantines is growing as governors move to protect residents amid flareups in places such as Florida, Texas and Arizona.
The results are confusing, to say the least.
For example, Maine requires Massachusetts visitors to either quarantine or take a test, but Mainers may travel freely in Massachusetts. Chicago’s quarantine order includes neighboring Wisconsin. But people who cross the state line for work are exempted.
In Connecticut, Paula Simchock and her husband are planning to hit the beaches in Delaware with their daughter en route to dropping her off at college in South Carolina. But because both of those states are on Connecticut’s quarantine list, they expect to have to isolate upon returning home.
“We’re definitely stir crazy. So we’re really looking forward to getting down to Delaware and enjoying our favorite restaurants and surf shop. We’re really excited about it,” Simchock said. “To see that it’s on the Connecticut hot spot list is disappointing.”
The U.S. Travel Association believes that with proper precautions — masks, hand-washing, and proper sanitation — people can travel safely.
More than a third of jobs lost during the pandemic are in the travel and tourism industry, said Tori Emerson Barnes, spokeswoman for the association.
“Really and truly, the only way that we can have a sustained economic rebound is to have people moving again,” she said.
Mike Stumpf and his wife, who live outside Philadelphia, were supposed to take a cruise in Alaska in June. Then a trip to Colorado was canceled this week. A fall cruise to Europe was delayed this fall, and they bagged their annual trip to Florida.
Between different state regulations and health concerns, there’s just too much uncertainty, he said. “We won’t because it’s not the worth the risk and every state has different regulations,” he said.
Others don’t want to risk it, either.
In New York, Lyndie Callan had to cancel her 60th birthday celebration in Spain this summer because of the country’s restrictions on U.S. visitors. But even without the restriction, she wouldn’t have felt comfortable traveling.
“There’s only one way to get this virus under control and that’s to behave responsibly. It starts with me,” Callan said. “I don’t see that my vacation plans are all that important. I’ll go on vacation next year.”