BOISE — With the Thanksgiving holiday approaching, Idahoans considering traveling out of state face myriad travel restrictions due to COVID-19 that vary by state, some with big potential fines, while Idaho’s newest public health order has no travel restrictions at all.
Nevertheless, Idahoans are being strongly advised not to travel this Thanksgiving.
“It is not safe to have gatherings with people who don’t live with you,” said Niki Forbing-Orr, spokeswoman for the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare. “We advise against traveling for the holidays, or having guests travel here.”
Among Idaho’s direct neighbors, Washington and Oregon have newly enacted 14-day quarantine advisories for anyone entering the state, and Canada’s still not letting Americans in, with very limited exceptions that include quarantine requirements. Utah has no travel restrictions, but is currently limiting all gatherings to household members under a state of emergency.
Every state neighboring Idaho except Wyoming currently has a statewide mask mandate aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19; 35 states now have such requirements, with the latest addition of North Dakota on Saturday, according to the AARP.
Oregon, Washington and California all announced their travel advisories on Friday, calling on anyone entering their states to quarantine for 14 days. Nationwide, 19 states and the District of Columbia have travel restrictions or quarantine requirements. Alaska has a $25,000 fine for those who don’t comply with requirements for a negative COVID-19 test or 14-day quarantine; Hawaii’s is $5,000. Eight states have fines or other penalties for travelers who don’t comply, including New Mexico, Kansas, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and in Illinois, Chicago, that state’s largest city.
While New Mexico doesn’t have a fine on the books, its statewide executive order says those entering the state from “states deemed high-risk based on COVID-positivity rates” must quarantine for two weeks, emerging only to receive medical care. Those who don’t comply “shall be subject to involuntary isolation or quarantine.”
While states vary in how they define high-risk areas, with some targeting specific county-by-county rates and others identifying broad swaths of states as high-risk, Idaho makes the bad list in nearly every state with restrictions. Idaho’s most recent statewide positivity rate for COVID-19 testing was 16.9% on Nov. 7, according to the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare, and it’s been on the increase.
According to the CDC COVID Data Tracker, on Monday, Idaho ranked 15th highest in the nation for new cases per capita in the past seven days, and 10th highest for deaths per capita. On both counts, North Dakota ranked first, and Hawaii last. Idaho’s seven-day rolling average of new cases per capita was nearly three times the national rate.
The Oregon, Washington and California travel restrictions apply to all travelers from out-of-state, with only limited exceptions.
“We’re not going to have any border patrols,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said at a news conference on Sunday. But he decried Idaho for imposing fewer COVID-19 restrictions, when people travel freely between the bordering states, particularly in North Idaho. “I have urged the Idaho leaders to show some leadership,” he said, calling the repeal of a Kootenai County mask mandate last month “just irresponsible.”
Matthew Conde, public affairs director for AAA Idaho, said, “We understand that people have this pent-up desire to reunite after months of separation, but you still have to be cognizant of what that can mean for everybody’s health and safety.”
The motorists’ group has published a nationwide map of coronavirus restrictions, including travel restrictions, at AAA.com/covidmap.
“What we’re saying is that with the situation being as dynamic as it is, unless you can safely execute on some sort of a travel bubble that’s going to keep you safe everywhere you go, it’s just really difficult to do right now,” Conde said. “This year, we’re not recommending that people travel.”
AAA is forecasting a 10% drop in travel volume for the Thanksgiving holiday, with 95% of people traveling only by car and for much shorter distances than usual.
Brandon Atkins, epidemiologist with Central District Health, said, “We do not recommend traveling during this heightened risk. We recommend that people only be sharing Thanksgiving with people in their immediate household, and not to be traveling.”
He noted, “Ada County right now is going through the roof as far as our rate. We don’t recommend that people come into our jurisdiction, because we have a high prevalence.”
As of Sunday, Ada County was reporting 21,561 COVID-19 cases to date, more than 4,000 of those new in the past two weeks. The county’s seven-day incidence rate per 100,000 population was at 46.9; for the pandemic to date, it was 4,477.1.
Both Ada and Canyon counties have seen their total case numbers double since August.
Atkins said, “If you need to have a family get-together, you have to connect digitally. I think that’s going to be best: Play games, enjoy, spend time together, but don’t put people at unnecessary risk. We want our family members who we love and care about to make it through this holiday season without an additional risk of COVID.”