Chicago’s COVID-19 emergency travel order lacks enforcement amid pandemic


CHICAGO — The city imposed an emergency travel order last year as COVID-19 cases increased, but Chicago hasn’t been enforcing it.

Janet Calvo was visiting Chicago from Nashville and ready to have a ball at the Bean. She runs the Instagram account called “Wilson Gets Around,” an ode to Tom Hanks’ volleyball in “Castaway.”

Because she was coming to Chicago from Tennessee, Calvo checked to make sure she wouldn’t be on thin ice.

“When we planned the trip, we were notified by the airline that there was a travel restriction, so we looked into it,” said Calvo.

Calvo logged onto O’Hare’s website and found Chicago’s emergency travel order.

“Anyone traveling from a state on the Orange list is directed to obtain a negative COVID-19 test result no more than 72 hours prior to arrival,” it states.

She made sure she had all of her paperwork in order and spent $175 on a rapid COVID-19 test.

But when she arrived at the gate at O’Hare, she found enforcement was not exactly on the ball.

“Nobody ever asked us to see it. They never asked at the airline desk,” she said. “You basically had a planeload full of people come from Nashville, Tennessee, come to your city today and nobody asked for proof that they had complied with the emergency order.”

Dr. Arwady said the order is more about guidance and education for travelers. She said the city does not have the resources to check every passenger coming into one of the world’s busiest airports.

“We are not stopping individuals, we are not doing every single person that’s traveling, we don’t have capacity to do all of that,” Arwardy said.

Mayor Lightfoot said the order has the effect of making people think about public health before they get on a plane.

“I do think the travel order has been effective in really elevating the consciousness of the public around safety when you’re traveling to other environments,” Lightfoot said.

With volleyball in hand, Calvo said she hopes lax enforcement doesn’t lead to a COVID-19 spike.

“Somebody somewhere, in a conference room puts it on paper, and it sounds really good, but in practice if you don’t have anybody checking, you’re operating on an honor system in a global pandemic,” Calvo said.

Very few, if any, citations have been issued over the travel order. In certain cases, the city sent warning letters to people who violated the rules.

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