Crossing State Lines During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Self-Quarantine Requirements

We are no longer updating the information in this alert.  For more recent guidance, please see our new state-by-state reference tool on reopening plans in New England.

As of April 3, 2020, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont have issued orders requiring travelers from outside their respective states to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, unless they are traveling for essential reasons. Ten other states across the country have similar, although generally less restrictive, orders. New Hampshire and Connecticut do not have a similar order in place. The CDC, however, has warned against traveling into or out of Connecticut (as well as New York and New Jersey) due to the high rates of infection in those states and strongly recommends a 14-day self-quarantine for travelers.

Both the federal government and the states have the authority to impose quarantines and travel restrictions to protect the health, safety, and welfare of residents. While the authorities vary from state to state, violating such orders is generally a misdemeanor criminal offense.

Travel for essential reasons is exempted: Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island are generally allowing border crossing to perform essential services as defined in their state closure orders and expressly exempt health care, public health, public safety, and transportation workers. Vermont expressly includes travel for personal safety, to secure medical care or medicine, for food, and to care for vulnerable residents of the state, as well as to work for essential businesses. 

Employers may want to give essential workers who live in a different state a letter stating that they are traveling for a covered purpose in the event of questions from law enforcement. (For details on what is exempted under the state closure orders, please see our alerts: Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont.) However, all of the states have advised that if you have symptoms consistent with COVID-19, you should not enter the state, even for essential reasons. The Maine order also advises individuals coming from “hot spots” such as Detroit, Chicago, and New York City, as well as residents of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut not to travel to Maine, in keeping with CDC instructions.

It is important to note that not all of the exceptions to the stay-at-home orders apply across state borders – for example, while Massachusetts allows you to leave home for exercise, you cannot cross state lines to do so.

Applies to residents and non-residents: All of the four New England orders apply to individuals coming from outside of the state regardless of whether they are residents of the state, so residents returning home from elsewhere must also self-quarantine for 14 days unless they were traveling for an essential purpose. The Rhode Island order also requires that any Rhode Island resident who works outside of Rhode Island and cannot work from home must self-quarantine when not at work. 

Lodging establishments closed: The Maine and Vermont orders have closed lodging establishments (such as hotels, short-term rentals, parks for RVs, and campgrounds) unless they are (i) housing vulnerable populations such as children or the homeless, (ii) providing accommodations for health care, public safety, or critical infrastructure workers, (iii) used as a self-quarantine facility, or (iv) used under verifiable extenuating circumstances for the care and safety of residents of the state. New Hampshire has also issued an order restricting lodging to these categories, as well as: (v) New Hampshire residents who are self-isolating or who have had extenuating circumstances, (vi) individuals in need of specialized medical care and their families, or (vii) individuals unable to return to their homes outside of New Hampshire due to material constraints on travel.

Method of travel: Each state has restrictions regarding the method of travel, including restrictions on air travel, strict limits on the use of public transportation, and a requirement that only individuals residing in the same household can be in the same personal vehicle.

Enforcement measures are in place: Law enforcement is authorized to enforce these orders, including arrests and fines. Signs have been posted on most interstate highways and roads, and law enforcement is watching for out-of-state license plates. The Rhode Island National Guard has set up checkpoints to identify and track out-of-state vehicles and there have been public reports of Rhode Island police arresting individuals for violations. In addition to arrests, enforcement authorities can expel violators or require them to go into quarantine and be monitored by public health authorities. 

CDC guidance: The CDC has issued guidance on what to consider before traveling during the pandemic, including whether you are traveling to a hotspot, making a plan for self-quarantine, and determining whether you live with someone who is vulnerable. The CDC in particular urged residents of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut to limit travel to essential purposes only. The CDC guidance for traveling within the United States is available here.

For questions about the recent COVID-19 travel orders, please contact Pierce Atwood attorneys Kate Hamann or Andrea Maker.