Feb. 12, 2021 -- The Biden administration is weighing whether to implement travel restrictions within the U.S. as coronavirus variants emerge, particularly in Florida, according to the Miami Herald.
Outbreaks are beginning to pop up in several states, with cases linked to the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the UK, the B.1.351 variant first identified in South Africa and the P.1 variant first identified in Brazil.
“There are active conversations about what could help mitigate spread here, but we have to follow the data and what’s going to work,” a White House official told the newspaper. “We did this with South Africa, we did this with Brazil, because we got clear guidance.”
So far, the U.S. has reported 932 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant across 34 states, according to the latest CDC tally updated on Tuesday. Florida has reported 343 cases — almost a third of the country’s total. California has reported 156 cases, and New York has reported 59 cases.
In addition, the U.S. has reported 9 B.1.351 cases in Maryland, South Carolina and Virginia, with 6 of the cases in Maryland. Three P.1 cases have been identified in Minnesota and Oklahoma.
“No decisions have been made, but we certainly are having conversations across government,” the White House official told the newspaper.
Any travel restrictions or new public health measures would be discussed among officials at the federal, state and local levels, the Herald reported. In January, President Joe Biden directed the CDC, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Homeland Security to draft a list of recommendations for how their agencies might impose additional public health measures on domestic travel.
“As part of our close monitoring of the pandemic and in particular the emerging variants, we will continue to review public health options for containing and mitigating spread of the virus,” the CDC wrote in a statement to NBC 6 in Miami. “CDC will also continue to work across government on recommendations for the travel space, and no decisions have been made.”
Overall COVID-19 cases have declined in Florida in recent weeks, though the B.1.1.7 variant now makes up about 15% of new cases in the state. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis opposed the idea of travel restrictions at a news conference on Thursday morning, NBC 6 reported.
“I think it’s an absurd report that they would be doing that. I think it would be unconstitutional, it would be unwise and it would be unjust,” he said. “Any attempt to restrict or lock down Florida by the federal government would be an attack on our state done purely for political purposes.”
Travel restrictions could slow the spread of the variant and give more time for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, public health officials told the Herald. However, many factors play into discussions about domestic travel restrictions, including economic, legal and political considerations.
“There are probably some epidemiological reasons to impose a travel restriction, but of course, epidemiology is only part of the story,” Stephen Kissler, an immunology and infectious disease expert with Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told the newspaper.
“So much of epidemiology is based on trust and a presumption of goodwill,” he said. “If that goes out the window, nothing else works.”