The idea of a travel bans, because of COVID-19, briefly floated across the state radar screen not long ago before it seemingly vanished, and that is probably a good thing.
Readers may recall the idea of restrictions on travel were on the debate table earlier this month, but eventually the governor’s office told lawmakers such mandates were not impending.
Charles Boyle, a spokesman for Gov. Kate Brown, said the governor’s office was discussing “issuing safe travel guidelines with other Western states so travelers across our region are receiving the same information.”
Travel restrictions or temporary quarantines are not exceptional in the COVID-19 pandemic. Some states, such as Hawaii, already require people who travel there to quarantine for 14 days. Massachusetts and Alaska have similar guidelines.
Quarantines are — to some extent — a justifiable measure if they are backed by the best available medical science, but instituting travel restrictions on interstate travel would be difficult to enforce and costly at a time when Oregon is already suffering serious financial blows because of the virus.
Travel restrictions are also tricky, legally. For one, individual rights must be protected. That means any kind of travel ban must adhere to very specific guidelines or the state will end up in court.
Any kind of travel restrictions — or bans — will impact rural Oregon the hardest. The region already suffers from tough economic woes and a ban or restriction that could impact commerce would be a huge hit for the area.
Finally, it isn’t clear the state is to the point in the COVID-19 crisis where travel restrictions or bans would be necessary.
Should the governor have a travel restriction or ban plan ready in case the COVID-19 crisis suddenly becomes much, much worse? Yes. That is just common sense. No one knows which way the COVID-19 epidemic is going right now, so being prepared is prudent. The governor’s office and state officials should have a plethora of different plans to meet many possible scenarios. Planning pays off.
However, unless the current COVID-19 situation in Oregon grows acute, plans for a travel ban or for travel restrictions should remain just that — plans. Plans that are readily available to pull off the shelf, but otherwise left untouched.