Not since 1918 has the United States faced the kind of wide-scale public health crisis that Americans face today. The novel coronavirus pandemic of 2020 jeopardizes multiple millions of Americans’ lives, especially the elderly and immunocompromised. It also stands to cripple the American economy with the real prospect of the nation plunging into a depression. The virus itself is more easily transmitted than other seasonal diseases like the flu. Each non-isolated case of novel coronavirus will infect 2 to 2.5 additional people compared to the flu, where each additional case will infect 1.3 other people on average. Moreover, it is more deadly than the flu. As I write, nearly 85,000 Americans have been infected, and over 1,000 lives have been lost to the pandemic. These numbers will surely grow as the challenges to respond to the crisis mounts. Public health resources are strained, and the testing capacity of the United States lags behind other nations.
Public health experts and government officials face a stark choice: swift crackdowns on private movement or the possibility of mass mortality. To “flatten the curve,”i.e., slow the exponential growth of new infections and avoid overwhelming the healthcare system, governors and mayors have mandated social distancing and instituted stay-at-home orders. And while the pandemic has touched every state in the nation, certain states like New York, New Jersey, and Washington have acute outbreaks. In response, some governors have instituted de facto travel bans for short-term visitors. The governors in Alaska and Hawaii issued mandatory self-quarantine periods for all persons entering either state for 14 days. Travelers whose final destinations are Florida or Texas coming from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut must quarantine for 14 days, as must persons traveling from New Orleans to Texas. Rhode Island has instituted a similar policy directed at New Yorkers, including police stops of non-commercial vehicles entering the state with New York license plates, that has come under fire from the state American Civil Liberties Union chapter.