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Travel advisory: City orders quarantine for anyone arriving in Chicago next week from states with COVID-19 surges

Violators are subject to fines of $100-$500 per day, up to $7,000. The order kicks in Monday.

A largely empty Eisenhower Expressway, I-290, photographed from the overpass at South Leavitt Street in April.
A largely empty Eisenhower Expressway, I-290, photographed from the overpass at South Leavitt Street in April.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Starting next week, anyone arriving in Chicago from a state seeing a surge in new coronavirus cases — whether they’re out-of-state visitors or returning city residents — must quarantine for two weeks under a new public health order issued by Mayor Lori Lightfoot ahead of the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

The order takes effect Monday and applies to any traveler to Chicago from one of 15 states spanning the South and West that have been beset by massive outbreaks in recent weeks, including Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah.

The city says it’ll update that list weekly starting July 14, with states added to the quarantine list if they have an infection rate greater than 15 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents on a weekly rolling average. States will be removed from the list if their rate drops below that threshold.

The order, issued Thursday evening by Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, directs travelers “entering or returning to Chicago from states experiencing a surge in new COVID-19 cases to quarantine for a 14-day period from the time of last contact within the identified state.”

It applies to anyone who arrives here at 12:01 a.m. Monday or later, so Chicagoans who return from holiday trips on Sunday will get a pass.

As for connecting flights and short road trips, the quarantine order only applies if a person has spent 24 hours or more in one of the flagged states. International travelers aren’t affected.

Caught off guard

The order, in effect indefinitely, offers no details on exactly how it will be enforced, but says violators are subject to city fines of $100 to $500 per day, up to $7,000.

The announcement has some Chicagoans scurrying to get home before the order takes effect.

Lauren Fisher, 31, is currently visiting family in her hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and isn’t scheduled to fly back to Chicago until Monday, when the order takes effect.

The Rogers Park resident and IT consultant is now hoping Southwest Airlines will let her book an earlier return flight for free.

Though Fisher said the announcement was “a shock,” she believes the mayor’s office “did the right thing” by imposing the new rule. She acknowledged that cases are rising again across the country, including in Louisiana, and observed that many people aren’t wearing masks in public.

“I know speaking for myself, I literally have just been to the airport and then my parent’s house, but I can’t speak for everyone else,” Fisher said. But she said she ultimately has “no problem being quarantined” if she can’t shuffle flights.

Some exceptions

There are exceptions to the city’s order for personal travel, but those are limited and include travel for medical care and shared parental custody.

Those who travel for “essential” work are exempt, but urged to “avoid public spaces as much as possible.” That includes “any state, local, and federal officials and employees traveling in their official capacities on government business, including military service.”

Arwady “may additionally grant an exemption based upon an organization’s or business’ testing and other control policies or in extraordinary circumstances,” the order says.

Otherwise, even if a traveler from a hotspot state tests negative, they’ll still be required to quarantine because “individuals can develop symptoms and become contagious up to 14 days from their last exposure,” officials said.

“Like every action we have taken in response to the COVID-19 crisis, this decision was difficult but necessary in order to ensure the continued health and safety of Chicago’s residents and businesses,” Lightfoot was quoted as saying in a health department news release.

“Our success in staying ahead of this pandemic underscores our commitment to following the data of this disease, prioritizing saving lives, and working collaboratively with health officials, businesses and other stakeholders as we safely reopen our city’s economy. This emergency order will not only help contain the local spread of COVID-19 and preserve the positive progress we’ve made, it will also serve to prevent further spread nationwide and support the efforts of officials in other cities and states.”

Read more details on the order from the city: