April 8, 2020    America

Travel Ban in Pandemic

The study by researchers at NYU Langone Health shows that most of the COVID-19 viruses in New York City came from Europe, which aligns with what I thought was happening in New York City in February and March. It shows that travel restriction works in controlling the spread of the virus.

This also aligns with the map of NYC that shows the rates of infection of different neighborhoods. If the Chinese Americans were bringing the virus here first, we would see the highest rates in Chinatown and Flushing, but the rates for those two areas are lower than the average.

And, if the source in NYC were China, the spread would have happened much earlier, like a month earlier. The reason the US was the last developed country to see the community spread had to be because the virus traveled indirectly from China, through intermediary countries.

In February, the whole country was focused on China. In New York City, that meant places like Chinatown and Flushing. The Chinese restaurants were hit very hard while other restaurants were still bustling, but that was the reason I felt safer going to Chinese restaurants.

Firstly, there was not a single confirmed case in Chinese neighborhoods even after cases started popping up in other areas. Secondly, since everyone was paying close attention to the Chinese-American community, I figured, as soon as they find any cause for concern, we would hear about it. And, lastly, Chinese restaurants were empty, which made it easier for social distancing.

Some Chinese Americans were criticizing that the travel ban was racist, but I disagreed. After all, the Chinese government was imposing a travel ban on the citizens of Wuhan. In retrospect, I feel thankful for the travel ban on China. Imagine if this study had shown that most of the virus came from China. It would have given more ammunition to the racist attack against Chinese Americans.

It makes sense to me to freeze everyone in place when there is a pandemic (except, of course, for essential workers). In the long run, a travel ban is not useful because it will eventually spread everywhere, but it will at least allow us to slow down the spread of the virus, giving other cities, states, and countries more time to prepare.

Spreading the virus fast within the US is also problematic in that all the states will need critical medical equipment and healthcare workers at the same time. If we can delay the spread, we can pull the resources from unaffected states, and the states that have already passed their peaks can divert some of their resources to the states that are peaking.

From this point of view, the anger towards New Yorkers that other states have expressed has some merits; the migration of New Yorkers made it harder for us as a country to control the spread and prepare for it. If New Yorkers had stayed put, other states could have helped us more, and we could have helped them later. This is particularly true for neighboring states because the closer we are, the easier it is to help each other.