Will Trump's Europe Travel Restrictions Work to Control Coronavirus in the U.S.? Likely Not, Experts Say

In a special announcement from the Oval Office Wednesday night, President Donald Trump took the extraordinary step of temporarily halting foreign persons from entering the United States from more than two dozen European countries.

The decision, which he said will not apply to trade, U.S. citizens and their family members, green card holders, and travel from the United Kingdom, will last 30 days and is meant to curb the rise of new cases in America.

"It's a world problem and you do need separation in some cases," Trump told reporters at the White House Thursday. "It'll be an impact, but it's a bigger impact—it's a human impact, which is more important, frankly, than the financial—when you lose thousands of additional lives."

However, health experts told Newsweek the travel ban is too little, too late. More than 1,500 cases have already been confirmed nationwide, rendering a ban on travel from other countries likely ineffective, the experts said.

Here are what four specialists from around the country said the impact of president's travel ban would have on stemming the domestic spread of coronavirus and what more can be done by the federal government and the public. Their answers have been condensed for brevity.

Trump Europe Travel Ban Coronavirus
President Donald Trump addresses the nation from the Oval Office about the widening Coronavirus crisis on March 11 in Washington, DC. President Trump said the US will suspend all travel from Europe - except the UK - for the next 30 days. Since December 2019, Coronavirus (COVID-19) has infected more than 109,000 people and killed more than 3,800 people in 105 countries. Photo by Doug Mills-Pool/Getty

Dr. Vincent Racaniello, professor of microbiology and immunology at Columbia University

"It's too late for the European ban to make any difference. The virus is already in the U.S. circulating pretty much unfettered. Banning travel from Europe is a joke and will have zero impact on the transmission here. Sadly, we should have been preparing back in January, like South Korea did, by increasing hospital capacity and supplies. Now we don't even have enough facemasks for health care personnel."

Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University

"It will have a very minimal effect, from a public health standpoint. This virus is no longer trying to immigrate. It's here, and it is moving substantial within the United States. Whether a few more are imported from Europe or anywhere, they won't make a noticeable difference. This is a virus that has clearly joined our population and is spreading among U.S. citizens."

Dr. Arthur Reingold, head of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, Berkeley

"An honest answer is we don't really know. It could reduce people's exposure and risk to the extent fewer people are in airports and airplanes. If the idea is more that we don't want City X coming to City Y to protect people here, in theory you can understand why that might work. But in general, the likelihood is it'll be leaky, and the infection will get to community Y sooner rather than later. On the idea of flattening the curve of spread, there could be some benefit to that. I don't dismiss it out of hand. But I don't think it's going to prevent introduction of the virus into other cities."

Dr. Amanda Simanek, professor of Epidemiology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

"Will individuals still be able to enter the U.S. by flying through the UK or Ireland which were not included in the list of restricted countries? If so, travel restrictions will not serve to limit the number of people entering the U.S. from locations where the burden of disease is currently high. Second, will the screening of those who are permitted to travel from Europe (i.e., U.S. citizens, green card holders or families of U.S. citizens) be effective? Given that individuals may transmit the infection before becoming symptomatic, screening at airports among these individuals may have limited effectiveness in preventing cases from entering the U.S., if individuals are asymptomatic at the time of travel."

The chart below, provided by Statista, shows the current number of confirmed cases of coronavirus around the world as of Thursday at 6 a.m. ET.

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A graphic provided by Statista shows the global spread of the new coronavirus as of early March 12. Around half of the 127,000 afflicted have recovered, while over 4,700 have died. Statista

What more can be done?

Racaniello

"We need to severely limit travel within the US and interactions among people. Schools, sports events, theatre, any large gatherings need to be shut down. At the same time, the admin needs to provide funds to ramp up hospital capabilities, especially in large cities."

Schaffner

"The things we're doing and trying to do—social distancing, which the populous is trying to immigrate into their personal and business lives. Test many more people in the U.S. as rapidly as possible so we can document where the virus is and which populations it is affecting. We need to do much more testing. It's still cumbersome and inconvenient. They're finding difficulty doing that."

Reingold

"Organizations that might not have given paid sick leave before are making that available so people who are sick can follow our advice and stay home. It isn't easy for people if they don't have paid sick leave.
Even if we can't contain the virus, we can at least slow the spread so the impact on our hospitals is spread out over time rather than all coming in all one massive peak."

Simanek

"Many communities are being proactive about closing schools and cancelling events and this can be very effective in preventing spread of the infection. These decisions must take into account, however, that not everyone has the option to work from home, and school closures may pose significant challenges for families who may lose their job or significant wages by staying home and/or for children who depend on social services provided through schools."