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Posting selfies from The Bean? Make sure you’re not in violation of Chicago’s travel quarantine

  • August 06, 2020

Wondering how states and cities enforce traveler quarantines to help stop the spread of COVID-19?

Chicago health officials turn to social media for help.

The city issued an emergency travel order July 2 requiring visitors and residents who have traveled to destinations with problematic COVID-19 trends to quarantine for 14 days on arrival. Authorities check the online posts of suspected violators.

If someone is on officials’ radar through contact tracing or other measures, that person’s social media accounts are checked to gather evidence for a possible citation, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady said at a news conference Tuesday.

Chicago officials check the social media accounts of visitors and residents suspected of violating the city's 14-day quarantine upon arrival from COVID-19 hot spots.

“Where we already have a concern, it’s one of the easiest ways to identify people who are not just breaking the travel order but flaunting it publicly,” she said.

She used the example of someone whose posts were from Florida, one of the states on the quarantine list, one day and Chicago a few days later.

“And they’re clearly out in Chicago, not just back but at a restaurant or at The Bean or whatever it may be, and they’re posting about it,” she said. “That’s an example of where we could use that as proof to issue citations.”

Fines range from $100 to $500 a day. The city has not released details on how many fines, if any, have been issued. Arwady said only that the Health Department sends warning letters to “people of concern.”

If you post an online selfie from a Chicago landmark such as The Bean today after you posted from a COVID-19 hot spot such as Florida  a few days ago, your post may be used to prove you violated the city's travel quarantine rule.

Arwady dismissed any notion that Chicago is playing “Big Brother” and closely monitoring visitor and resident social media posts.

“We do not have somebody dedicated to sitting and watching social media feeds,” she said. “We’re absolutely not doing that.”

She said social media posts are an easy way to gather proof of potential violations of a quarantine order “without me having to send out an inspector or do any sort of more aggressive follow-up.”

Chicago’s emergency travel order covers 22 states and, beginning Friday, Puerto Rico.

Arwady said the city’s main approach to enforcement of the quarantine remains public education: notices and announcements at its two major airports, highway signs and notices to airlines, hotels and vacation rental companies.

“And in that respect, I think it’s actually been extremely effective,” she said. “We have gotten calls about this travel order, questions at a level that has suggested that people are paying serious attention.”

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