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LA County Makes 10-Day Travel Quarantine 'Mandatory.' But What Does That Really Mean?

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Travelers wait for rides outside the arrivals area of Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX amid a COVID-19 surge in Southern California on December 22, 2020. (Mario Tama/ Getty Images)
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L.A. County has long suggested that residents quarantine for 10 to 14 days, after traveling. But now they've made it official.

On December 30, the county public health department issued a mandatory directive ordering anyone traveling from outside the Southern California region to self-quarantine for 10 days.

This includes travel by air, bus or rail, in addition to "intermingling with non-household members." The Southern California Region applies the following counties: Imperial, Inyo, Los Angeles, Mono, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura.

The directive specifies that this is a "futherance" of the State's Travel Advisory, which was released on Nov. 13 and advises Californians to avoid non-essential travel outside of their region. The advisory specifies that if Californians do travel, they should quarantine for 14 days upon return.

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This is confusing because yet again, we are dealing with overlapping orders that basically say the same thing, with slight differences. The county directive specifies that when under two orders, the public must follow whichever one is most strict, meaning in this case, the county order.

What does that mean for you if you live in L.A. County? If you travel, you should quarantine for 10 days.

What do they mean by "mandatory?" Well, like everything else the county has done, there's no plan for enforcement, meaning no one is going to strap a bracelet on your ankle and put you under house arrest.

But, all transportation hubs, including train stations and airports, are required to "prominently" post notices, informing incoming travelers of the requirements.

There is also a long list of exemptions to the mandatory quarantine, including health care workers, government workers, members of professional sports teams, and anyone coming to L.A. to work on a film or media production operating within the county.

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Anne Rimoin, professor of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, told our newsroom's local news and culture show, Take Two, that quarantining means, specifically, not leaving the house, at all.

"It means don't go out to grocery stores, don't go to restaurants, don't go to pharmacies, don't run errands, whatever you can do, you stay home -- have food delivered if you can. The point is we want to keep people from circulating in the community and potentially spreading more virus."

Take Two's host A Martinez responded by saying what a lot of us are probably thinking. "The order really only works if people are adhering to the honor system, right?" he said, "but I don't know, Professor, if I can trust [people]... or maybe I've given up hope that people will do that."

Rimoin agreed that it's hard to trust others to do the right thing, and aknowledged that we're all tired. But she made a plea for selflessness.

"I am very, very concerned about our hospital system, about how we're going to be able to keep up with the number of cases that we're seeing," she said. "We are in a very precarious situation and that's the truth of the matter, so everybody should do their part. I know it's hard. I know it's tiring. We're all tired, but now is the time to be more vigilant than ever before."

To illustrate those numbers, she pointed to one statistic: In August, 1 in 800 people in L.A. County was infected with COVID-19. Right before Thanksgiving, that dropped to 1 in 145 people. Now it's 1 in 60.

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Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at UC San Francisco, spoke to host Larry Mantle on our newsroom's public affairs show, AirTalk, about the mandatory directive. He says he thinks it's a good policy, but is concerned that it won't make a difference.

"I think it's extremely difficult to enforce this," he said. "I don't think it's been adhered to in San Francisco (which already has a similar order). Just personally, I've heard of lots of people traveling all during this time... I'm worried that it will just, again, be something that you can aspire to, but no one will end up doing it."

Chin-Hong added that the order is missing suggestions on when and how often to get tested, which could add to the confusion and potential lack of compliance.

For a gilmpse into how other countries do it better, see this Tweet thread from LAist Reporter Josie Huang, who is currently under a real mandatory quarantine in Tapei. By real, we mean actually enforced, planned and structured.

Upon arrival, travelers are required to have a Taiwanese phone, so that authorities can track your location and make sure you're staying put. Only certain taxis are permitted to transport quarantining travelers; and some hotels have separate entrances for them.

Maybe that's part of the reason why Taiwan has only has 7 deaths and 799 reported cases of COVID-19, on an island of nearly 24 million.

Megan Nguyen contributed to this story.