PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – When Rhode Island’s positivity rate tracked by Johns Hopkins University fell below 5% last week, there was a sigh of relief among those who believed it signaled an end to interstate travel restrictions from next-door Massachusetts.
But that relief quickly turned into confusion for many who have reached out to 12 Responds, asking why Rhode Island still shows up on the list of states with restricted travel in Massachusetts.
“Does Massachusetts still consider Rhode Island a high risk state for travel?” one viewer asked recently.
Like Rhode Island, Massachusetts requires all travelers from states with positivity above 5% to quarantine for 14 days or show proof of a recently administered COVID-19 test that came back negative.
Unlike Rhode Island, however, Massachusetts also imposes those restrictions on a second category of travelers: those arriving from states with more than six daily coronavirus cases per 100,000 people, based on a seven-day rolling average.
Rhode Island has no problem with the first requirement, reporting a positivity rate below 2% as of Thursday.
But the state fails to qualify under the second requirement because it has consistently reported between eight and 10 cases per 100,000 residents during August, according to a Target 12 analysis of data provided by the R.I. Department of Health.
Rhode Island fell below Massachusetts’ threshold in mid-June, but edged back over the allowable limit shortly after moving into Phase 3 of its reopening plan on June 30.
The Massachusetts policy is stricter than Rhode Island’s other neighbor, Connecticut, where travel restrictions affect anyone coming from states with case rates above 10 per 100,000 residents or with positivity rates above 10%.
Rhode Islanders earlier this month were temporarily restricted from traveling freely in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, which have a regional pact when it comes to travel policy. The same day, Massachusetts added Rhode Island to its list of states with travel restrictions.
The tri-state area has since removed Rhode Island from its list, but the restrictions remain in Massachusetts. Rhode Island is the only New England state whose residents are restricted from traveling freely in Massachusetts.
The varying travel policies across bordering states have created confusion among business owners, daily commuters and travelers alike, as people have had to cancel reservations and rethink trips.
When asked why there isn’t some type of regional travel policy that creates continuity between bordering states, Gov. Gina Raimondo last week said, “I think we all decided to be in a different place.”
“Massachusetts decided to be stricter than we are,” she said during a news conference, adding that she didn’t think Massachusetts even qualified under its own travel criteria.
A Target 12 analysis of Massachusetts public health records shows the state does qualify under its own requirements, reporting fewer than five cases per 100,000 residents during August, and a positivity rate below 2% as of Wednesday.
A Massachusetts Department of Public Health spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday about whether there were any imminent plans to change the state’s travel policy.
“These are judgement calls,” Raimondo said about the different travel policies across states. “I have a duty to the people of Rhode Island, [Gov. Charlie Baker] has a duty to the people of Massachusetts. We’re both doing the best we can.”