Travel Advisory Issued; Questions Abound

Visitors stroll the Wildwoods Boardwalk June 24. A recent travel advisory by Gov. Phil Murphy has raised questions about how it could affect the county's tourism-based economy at the height an already challenging summer. 

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UPDATE: The below reflects an updated travel advisory issued by Gov. Phil Murphy June 29.

COURT HOUSE – Govs. Phil Murphy, Andrew Cuomo, of New York, and Ned Lamont, of Connecticut, agreed to a coordinated travel policy that imposes restrictions on travelers arriving from nine coronavirus hot spots in the U.S.

According to the release from the governors, the policy requires that “individuals traveling from states with significant community spread of COVID-19 quarantine for a 14-day period from the point of last contact with the identified state.” The effective date of the new policy was 12:01 a.m. June 25. It is to remain in effect until rescinded.

After the fanfare of the joint announcement was over, the confusion began. Language about the travel policy varied from its initial announcement.

In some statements, the quarantine is “required.” In other statements, travelers are “directed” to quarantine.

In Murphy’s June 25 comments, travelers from the listed states “should” self-quarantine upon arrival in New Jersey. While state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said, “We expect compliance,” Murphy made it clear that the state was “depending on people to do the right thing.”

If all of the back and forth in the use of language were not enough, the announcement, like many, jumped the gun, putting a policy in place with an effective date for starting compliance before materials were ready for a public information campaign.

The next morning, with the travel advisory in effect, passengers reported that they arrived at airports in the three-state region without being provided with any formal notice of the requirement/request that they quarantine.

The confusion reaches new levels, in New York, where Cuomo issued Executive Order 205, ordering the state Department of Health to issue a travel advisory and stating that all travelers from the impacted states are “required to quarantine.” It goes on to state that any violation of a quarantine order “issued to an individual” pursuant to the travel advisory was punishable by civil penalty.

On the New York Department of Health website for the COVID-19 travel advisory, the language says traveler from listed states “must” self-quarantine for 14 days, but it also makes clear that the state is depending on individuals to take “personal responsibility” for compliance.

In Connecticut and New Jersey, there is no pretense of enforcement nor has either state announced any potential for civil penalties for failure to comply.

What it appears to reduce down to is an advisory that travelers from listed states self-quarantine because it is the right thing to do.

To whom does the new advisory apply?

The governors made clear that this move is not retaliation for attempts three months ago by some states to bar travelers from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut when those states were experiencing their peak periods of virus outbreak. They point to specific health metrics driving the new policy.

The impacted traveler must be coming from states with a positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents or states with a 10% or higher positivity rate over a seven day rolling average.

At his June 25 briefing, Murphy said the policy would initially apply to travel from Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Utah.

As of June 29, the list was updated to include Mississippi, California, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, Tennessee. 

Murphy said that the requirement also applied to state residents returning to New Jersey from travel to a listed state.

Hotels are to be provided with information, so that they may make arriving guests aware of the travel advisory.

Cape May County is a tourist destination, with travelers arriving from numerous locations. A check of data presented by the Cape May County Department of Tourism shows that the vast majority of those visitors normally come from states not impacted by the travel advisory.

Recent data shows that about one in four visitors to the county come from elsewhere in New Jersey. Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland and Connecticut make up the next big share of visitors. Add in Canada and only about 10% of the county’s tourists come from other areas, which may or may not include some from one of the listed states.

The county is also the location of over 50% of the state’s vacation and second homes. Most of the second homeowners have permanent residences in neighboring states unaffected by the advisory. Several individuals who have permanent homes in the county travel back and forth to vacation homes, in Florida, but that travel is normally over for many of them by June. 

The travel advisory has specific exemptions, as well, for “essential workers.” Murphy added there would be a specific “carve out” for the president of the U.S. who has property in the state.

To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com.

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