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WGLT's reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, which began in McLean County in March 2020.

Summer Travelers Can Bring Back COVID To Central Illinois, But No Quarantine Required

Healthcare worker at a testing site
Lynne Sladky
Florida's testing positivity rate is now about 19%, well above the Illinois (3.9%) and national average (7.9%), according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

Thousands of people are traveling this summer to COVID-19 hotspots and coming back to the Bloomington-Normal and the Tri-County areas — and none of them are being told to quarantine when they return.

Other cities and states, like Chicago and New York, have required a two-week quarantine period for those returning from hotspots, such as Florida and Arizona. But no such requirement exists in downstate Illinois, even as county health officials warn about the risk of out-of-state travel.

Peoria County just slipped into a warning level for COVID-19, putting it at risk for new restrictions if left unchecked. Many new cases in Peoria are linked to recent travel to Wisconsin, Iowa, Texas, or Florida — all states with fewer protective measures than Illinois.

"Right now, I don't see the data as being so strong that we'd go down that path here."

"Reconsider traveling to areas that are experiencing high rates of activity related to COVID, or have communities where they do not enforce or have various protective measures like they do in Illinois," Peoria City/County Health Department Administrator Monica Hendrickson said Friday.

Hendrickson said with some of the new cases, a patient had not personally traveled out-of-state at all, but was in contact with someone who recently returned from Texas, Florida, Iowa, Wisconsin, or another state with spiking COVID-19 numbers.

McLean County, which has experienced a 76% spike in cases since July 1, has also seen recent cases related to or from areas such as Florida, Texas, Tennessee, and Wisconsin, said McLean County Health Department administrator Jessica McKnight. About 24% of all new cases since July 1 have been related to out-of-state travel, McKnight said.

Chicago requires people traveling to the city from 22 states, including Wisconsin and Missouri, to quarantine for two weeks. Illinoisans going to New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut must do the same.

But that’s not required if you take a road trip from Bloomington-Normal to Wisconsin Dells, or fly from Peoria to Florida or Arizona. And plenty of people are taking those trips.

Around 2,700 people flew on Allegiant back from Florida to Bloomington’s Central Illinois Regional Airport in June — a month when Florida’s 7-day testing positivity rate jumped from 3.8% to 16.1%. At Peoria International Airport, around 6,500 people returned from Florida, Arizona, and Las Vegas on Allegiant flights in June. Allegiant, primarily serving leisure travelers, was the top carrier for both airports in June.

Air travel bottomed out in April due to COVID-19. Just 1,000 passengers traveled through CIRA in April, and 2,900 through Peoria. That’s slowly started to rebound in the months since.

“Leisure is definitely going to return first, and we’re definitely following that trend,” said Peoria airport director Gene Olson. 

Gov. JB Pritzker has not ordered any statewide travel advisory, akin to what’s in place just for Chicago. Even in cities and states with a quarantine requirement, the rules are a patchwork, and enforcement differs place by place. Some employers have set their own rules, although those can raise legal questions of their own.

Olson noted that neither the state nor Peoria City/County Health Department has recommended such an advisory for his airport. It is conducting daily antiviral cleaning and has installed shields at every ticket counter, among other precautions.

“We’re following the guidelines of the City/County Health Department, the CDC, and the state Department of Public Health,” Olson said. “They’ve not required (2-week quarantines).”

CIRA in Bloomington launched a safety program called #ReadySetCIRA, which includes hand-sanitizer stations with disinfection wipes, counter shields at the airline ticket counters, and other measures. CIRA has been in “communication with the McLean County Health Department since the stay-at-home orders began in March and recently asked for an on-site review of our current program,” said airport spokesperson Fran Strebing.

“It does not include health screening of inbound passengers or direct communication regarding special precautions and we do not anticipate implementing a program at this time,” Strebing said. “We received positive feedback from the Health Department’s recent visit and inspection of our facilities and protocols.”

Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner said he was hesitant to support any mandatory restrictions on travelers coming into his city. Travel restrictions face a heavy legal burden, he said.

“If we have evidence that we’re having a serious spike because of travel as a factor, then that’s a whole different story,” Renner said this week on WGLT’s Sound Ideas. “And we may be close. But right now, I don’t see the data as being so strong that we’d go down that path here.” 

Editor’s note: Central Illinois Regional Airport is an underwriter at WGLT.

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