Tit for Tat: Should Louisiana Limit Visitors from Florida?
Jul 05 2020

Tit for Tat: Should Louisiana Limit Visitors from Florida?

By: John Glover

Oh, how the mighty have fallen, the tables have turned, etc. A few months ago, Louisiana looked like ground zero for COVID-19 in the U.S. At that time, Florida, which appeared to be escaping the brunt of the pandemic, placed restrictions on Louisianans travelling to their state. Now that Louisiana appears to be on the mend and Florida's coronavirus cases are going through the roof, the question arises: Should Louisiana treat Florida in kind?

As the common-sense dictum informs us, an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. If Louisiana does impose mandatory quarantine periods on Floridians visiting our state, it should, of course, be for public health reasons and not a concession to mere vindictiveness. Weighing the merits of immigration-centric containment tactics, it's best to consult the numbers.

The John Hopkins University School of Medicine has an illustrative coronavirus tracking tool. It breaks down the case numbers and casualty rates, both at the national and state levels.

As many likely remember, Louisiana had one of the steepest infection rates per capita in the world during March and April, before the number of cases began to taper off to less alarming levels in May. It has often been hypothesized that Mardi Gras, and the international tourism it inspired, incited Louisiana's wildly disproportionate figures.

In late March, Florida mandated that Louisianans visiting the state would have to quarantine for two weeks, unless some compelling reason brought on their visit, such as commercial, military, or medical. Florida, along with some other states, had already been restricting air travel from New Orleans as the epicenter of the pandemic in Louisiana, The Times-Picayune reported several months ago.

Back then, around 10 percent of Floridians being tested for COVID-19 were testing positive. The number in Louisiana was closer to 20 percent, though it's difficult to generalize these figures because of how volatile they were—and remain, for that matter. The difficulty here lies with the public health marksmanship challenge of hitting a moving target at a time when situations on the ground stay in a constant state of centrifugal motion.

As previously alluded to, Louisiana and Florida have essentially switched places in a kind of "Freaky Friday" scenario of pandemic conditions. Of people receiving tests, around 6 percent of Louisianans are sending back positive results, compared with 16 percent of Floridians.

The comparison here is a far cry from perfect. For instance, testing has become more widespread, by a long shot, since late March/early April, the dark early days of the health crisis. Those percentages don't reflect the overall number of tests but rather fractions of them, so they may be distortions to some degree. However, testing has become more widely available in both states and over roughly the same timeframe, so the story the numbers tell should still be considered compelling, albeit limited.

The other thing Louisianans could do is take their cue from analogous states. New York is another state like Louisiana, who the coronavirus hit hard at the beginning, but which has gradually gotten better. Florida restricted travel from New Yorkers as well as Louisianans. New York has since responded in kind by requiring quarantine periods for visitors from Florida.

It's difficult to say with any certainty whether such travel limitations help. There are too many variables to be able to make any claims about direct causation. This crisis came out of the blue. In the absence of any silver-bullet solutions, what we have are stop-gap options, Hail Marys, and Band-Aids, which might staunch the bleeding but can't hope to heal the wound altogether.

So qualified, though we can't expect that limiting travel from Florida will save us, it certainly wouldn't hurt to do so. At the risk of reduction, it seems safe to say that, at this moment, people from Florida are more likely to have the virus than visitors from other states on average.

Therefore, requiring those among them who do not have some exigent circumstance requiring them to be here to quarantine for a short while can only stand to benefit Louisiana, while doing no harm. Placing travel restrictions on visitors from Florida would be a net positive for our state.


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