State and federal governments are enacting emergency rules, health standards, and legislation to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Canada rolled out new border measures in October. Vermont officials now require residents and non-residents coming from outside the select states, or counties within select states, to quarantine for 14 days. In Illinois, the governor declared all counties a disaster area.

It’s a common occurrence during a public health emergency — but it makes planning travel a complex task. On any day a state can go on lock down, a country can seal its borders, flights can be cancelled or re-routed, and looming in the back of any traveler’s mind is the big question: what if I get sick while away from home? Is there a pandemic algorithm for border management, or a standard set of rules for everyone, or does each government have its own criteria?

There’s no uniform formula. Each state manages its own response to the coronavirus pandemic to control the spread of disease within state borders. Individual governors have broad powers under their respective state constitutions to protect citizens during a disaster or crisis, according to research compiled by the Library of Congress

Some states may have a coronavirus task force set up, while others work closely with their state department of health. The decisions state and county border guidelines depends on a lot of things: the number of cases, the severity of cases, the economy of the state, the population density of the state. Each state does what is best for their residents. Restrictions change as the situation dictates. 

In Vermont, Governor Phil Scott works in consultation with the Vermont Department of Health and makes decisions based on new information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). California has a documented system for tracking the coronavirus pandemic. The system outlines how “Every county in California is assigned to a tier based on its test positivity and adjusted case rate. Data is reviewed weekly by the Department of Public Health. To move forward, a county must meet the next tier’s criteria for two consecutive weeks. If a county’s metrics worsen for two consecutive weeks, it will be assigned a more restrictive tier.” 

The bottom line is that border management is a reactive process, and it’s impossible to predict what each state will decide. 

Things get more complicated when it comes to federal government monitoring and management of the spread of disease across national borders. This makes tracking coronavirus regulations a bit more complex when you are traveling internationally.  

At one point, the European Schengen member states had a coordinated approach to travel restrictions. But when individual countries had an increase in cases, they made their own decisions. 

It’s a full-time job to keep up with the constant ebb and flow of travel information. We follow hundreds of news outlets, social media feeds, government alerts, nature newsletters, global organizations, podcasts, broadcasts and blogs.