Julie Weed | New York Times, California Travel Restrictions in This Phase of Covid , julie weed, covid, pandemic travel

California Travel Restrictions in This Phase of Covid

  • 24 Sep

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California has introduced new restrictions on travel and other aspects of daily life to combat the state’s surge in coronavirus cases and prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.

The Regional Stay at Home Order divides the state into five regions: Southern California, the San Joaquin Valley, the Bay Area, Greater Sacramento and Northern California. If a region’s intensive care unit capacity drops below 15 percent, residents will be required to stay home for at least three weeks except for essential activities and outdoor exercise. Some areas of the state are putting these regional restrictions in place preemptively.

The new restrictions, announced on Dec. 3, have led to confusion for residents and travelers alike about what is and is not allowed, especially when combined with the state’s existing color-coding system of county infection rates and closures meant to curb the spread of the virus.

One thing is clear: People planning to vacation to or visit relatives in California are being asked to cancel those plans.


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Here’s what those considering travel to and from California need to know.

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ImagePassengers check-in for American Airlines flights at Los Angeles International Airport ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday in Los Angeles
Passengers check-in for American Airlines flights at Los Angeles International Airport ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday in Los AngelesCredit…Patrick T. Fallon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Can I travel to and from California right now? Do I need to quarantine on arrival?

Travelers arriving anywhere in California from another state or country are asked to self-quarantine for 14 days on arrival. This is a request, so adherence is left to the honor system. There are no restrictions on leaving the state, but the California Department of Public Health encourages residents to avoid nonessential travel. If you are going to a United States or international destination, review any arrival restrictions and requirements there before you depart.

[Read our 2021 Travel questions and answers guide on restrictions, vaccination and more.]

What is essential and nonessential travel?

Essential travel, which includes “work and study, critical infrastructure support, economic services and supply chains, health, immediate medical care, and safety and security,” is allowed, according to the California Department of Public Health. Tourism and other recreational travel is considered nonessential and is not allowed.


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So, going to take care of a sick relative is OK, but visiting family for the holidays is considered nonessential.

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Is travel restricted within California?

Travel is already restricted in some areas, with more limitations likely to come. Every county in California is assigned to a tier of restrictions based on its rate of new virus cases and positivity, and travelers can check to see which activities are allowed.

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Under the latest order, when I.C.U. capacity dips below 15 percent in one of the five regions, individuals are required to “stay home or at their place of residence except as necessary to conduct activities associated with the operation, maintenance, or usage of critical infrastructure.” There are some exceptions for activities like outdoor worship services and exercise.

So far, of the five regions in the stay-at-home order, the Southern California, Greater Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley regions have fallen below the 15 percent threshold. Some counties, including San Francisco and Santa Clara, implemented the restrictions before they hit the threshold.

The rest of the state needs to abide by November’s Limited Stay at Home Order generally prohibiting nonessential work, movement and gatherings between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. in counties experiencing the highest rates of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.

Can I get a refund on a flight already booked to California?

You will need to check with your airline on the restrictions of your specific ticket, but most carriers have kept the newly relaxed change and cancellation rules they introduced during the pandemic.

If you are not allowed a refund, you will likely be issued a credit for a future flight. United Airlines’ website offers information for situations where travel plans have been impacted by Covid-19. Alaska Airlines has permanently eliminated change fees and also offers refunds or credits when travelers’ plans change.


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What if I already have a vacation booked at a California hotel?

Currently, all California hotels and lodgings, including short-term rentals like Airbnb, are prohibited from accepting or honoring out-of-state reservations for nonessential travel unless the reservation is made for the required minimum quarantine time and the guest will remain there until the required time expires.

For the regions where I.C.U. capacity has dropped below 15 percent, additional restrictions are triggered, and hotels and lodgings are only allowed to open “for critical infrastructure support.” The California Hotel and Lodging Association offers more detailed information in an information sheet online.

In general, it is up to the guest to cancel the reservation — the hotel does not know if the traveler is coming from in or out of state, or if the travel is essential. Large hotel chains will generally offer refunds for cancellations because of the coronavirus. Smaller properties may offer a credit instead. Travelers should contact the lodging directly to ask.

Is testing required to enter California?

Testing is not required to enter California, although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend getting tested before and after travel.

Is LAX open?

Los Angeles International Airport is open. All passengers arriving from another state or country need to fill out and submit an online form acknowledging the state’s request to self-quarantine for 14 days after arrival. Failure to fill out the form could result in a fine of up to $500.

Mask wearing Thanksgiving day visitors took advantage of the weather biking and strolling many of the paths and trails at Yosemite Valley National Park
Mask wearing Thanksgiving day visitors took advantage of the weather biking and strolling many of the paths and trails at Yosemite Valley National ParkCredit…Peter Dasilva/EPA, via Shutterstock
Are campgrounds and national and state parks open in California?

Outdoor recreational facilities may be open or closed, depending on local conditions. Some popular sites like Yosemite National Park and Joshua Tree National Park now allow day entry but not overnight camping. The situation is still changing so it is best to check the destination’s website for the most up-to-date information.


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I have plans to visit California for the holidays. Should I cancel?

Yes, you should cancel nonessential travel plans to California for your own safety and the safety of those around you, according to the California Department of Public Health and the C.D.C.