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Can I travel right now? Here’s what Los Angeles County says.

The short answer: You shouldn’t. But there are some recommendations and quarantine requirements if you decide to anyway.

Michael Juliano

For months now, answering “can I travel outside of L.A.?” has meant a series of “yes, but…” sort of responses. That’s sort of still the case as we move past the holidays, but the latest advice from the state and county is sending more of a “you really shouldn’t” message.

That first came after a press conference on November 12, in which L.A. County public health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer fielded some questions about Thanksgiving travel and plans for holiday gatherings. And simply put, amid rapidly rising case rates in the county, she said “It’s just not a good idea.”

Since then, things have gotten considerably more dire, with both L.A. County and California issuing stay-at-home orders. In particular, non-essential travel is being discouraged, and the state’s order even goes as far as ordering hotels to limit leisure travelers and out-of-state reservations.

So what does that all actually mean right now?

What’s this about a mandatory travel quarantine when traveling to L.A.?

For months now, you’ve technically been asked to quarantine when returning to L.A. but the county has now issued more specific and mandatory (but not really enforced) travel protocols.

As of December 30, 2020, all travelers arriving in L.A.—whether you live here or are just visiting—from outside of Southern California are required to quarantine for at least 10 days. This applies to all modes of transportation, whether by plane, car or train. And in line with the state’s definition, Southern California includes Imperial, Inyo, Los Angeles, Mono, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties—so if you’re coming from anywhere outside of those counties, you’ll need to quarantine. Similar, the state has a similar set of rules in place for anyone arriving from outside of California.

What exactly does it mean to quarantine? That means 10 days of remaining at home or wherever you’re temporarily staying and avoiding all contact with other people, including others in your household unless they too are under quarantine (so you’ll have to get your groceries and food delivered, but going for a distanced and masked walk around your neighborhood should still be permissible). On the flip side, it’s worth noting that the quarantine doesn’t apply to essential healthcare workers, caregivers or people just passing through L.A. but not staying the night.

If you’re symptom-free after 10 days, you’re free to leave your home, though you’re still asked to monitor yourself for symptoms for 14 days after your arrival. If you do start experiencing symptoms or test positive, you’ll need to isolate for 10 days and until you are fever-free for 24 hours.

Previously on November 13, California issued a joint statement with Oregon and Washington that urges against non-essential out-of-state travel and asks people to quarantine for 14 days after arriving from another state or country. In mid-December, California slightly relaxed its quarantine guidelines: If you’ve had a close contact (defined as within six feet and cumulatively for more than 15 minutes) with someone who’s infected, you can reduce your quarantine time down to 10 days if you’re asymptomatic.

So does that mean I can I travel outside of L.A.?

The county can’t stop you from leaving L.A. but it does strongly discourage it, specifically for non-essential purposes (which includes leisure and non-essential business). “Obviously the preference is for people not to be flying home for the holidays, for students or for others, at this point in time,” Ferrer said earlier this fall. “Especially because we are not the only place that is seeing a huge surge in cases.”

The state has since been more explicit: You should avoid non-essential travel, specifically to other states, countries or parts of California that are more than 120 miles from your place of residence.

There’s also one huge caveat when it comes to local travel: While you’re free to leave your home, hotels and lodging under the regional state-at-home order (which is most of California at this point) can’t accept leisure travelers.

Can I spend time with family?

The CDC is officially saying that “the safest way to celebrate winter holidays is to celebrate at home with the people who live with you.”

And what do the local rules say about this? Though the county had briefly allowed outdoor gatherings with two other families in the early fall, both L.A.’s and California’s current orders explicitly prohibit all public or private gatherings with people outside of your household, with the exception of outdoor religious services or protests. Though gatherings were previously limited only by a 10pm curfew, this now applies all the time—and indefinitely until the state order is removed.

It’s important to note that—for people who will inevitably ignore these rules—getting tested doesn’t give you some sort of free pass to gather with friends and family; Ferrer specifically notes that it just doesn’t work that way. “Don’t rely on testing to protect you or those you love from getting infected,” Ferrer said. “We’ve seen example after example where testing… doesn’t prevent people from transmitting and acquiring the virus.”

Can family come and visit me?

As far as what you decide to do in your own home, nobody will stop you, but it’s important to keep in mind both the above and below info about non-essential travel—and to know that private gatherings are largely responsible for the mess we’re in right now.

If you have family visiting and staying outside of your home, California’s regional stay-at-home order specifically says that hotels or lodging providers can’t accept or honor reservations from out-of-state visitors for non-essential travel, unless the reservation is long enough to satisfy the previously mentioned quarantine conditions. Similarly, the order also forbids such reservations for in-state travelers, as well.

So what exactly makes travel essential or non-essential?

California’s travel advisory lays out the difference between the two. In terms of visiting family, traveling to provide medical care would be considered essential. But simply swinging by to share a meal? Non-essential. 

Is there any other advice I should keep in mind?

You probably know the drill by this point, but in general: stay home as much as possible except for essential services, wear a mask, keep six feet from others, avoid crowds and large gatherings, stay home if you’re feeling sick, get tested if you have symptoms, isolate if you test positive for 10 days and 24 hours after fever and symptoms subside, and quarantine if you’ve traveled, been in close contact with someone who tested positive or in a crowd or gathering.

We originally published this story on November 12 about Thanksgiving travel, but we’ve since updated it with general holiday and winter travel guidelines.

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