San Francisco officials announced the lifting of the city’s mandatory travel quarantine as coronavirus-related infections and hospitalizations have begun to slow down while still urging residents to avoid non-essential travel.

City officials implemented the mandate in mid-December when San Francisco experienced a massive surge of COVID-19 infections after residents traveled for Thanksgiving. People were required to quarantine for ten days if they left San Francisco and came back. Authorities said the lifting of the mandate was effective immediately.

Travel Quarantine

“We still want people to be wary when they travel or are in situations when they’re around more people. We’d like them to still voluntarily self-quarantine or take additional care when they return. But we are no longer going to have it as an order that’s enforceable,” acting San Francisco health officer Dr. Susan Philip said.

According to the Department of Public Health, COVID-19 cases in San Francisco dropped more than 75% from the height of the fall and winter surge in mid-January from around 374 patients a day to 89 patients a day.

City officials implemented the travel quarantine to reduce the number of infections after the holidays. They also wanted to keep the new variants of the coronavirus, which has been identified and recorded in several regions worldwide, from entering San Francisco.

Public health officials said because of similar quarantine protocols in Santa Clara County; the region prevented one of the first cases of the new variant from South Africa from spreading to other people. Upon arrival from a recent travel outside the country, the infected person strictly obeyed the county’s quarantine mandate.

However, now that some of the COVID-19 variants have been reported in the Bay Area and a California-bred variant is widely spreading, Philip said severe travel restrictions were less than necessary.

Philip said the quarantine “was really intending to keep out the variants, but now we have B.1.1.7 (from the United Kingdom) in the Bay Area. We know that one of the ones we’re most concerned about, B.1.351 (from South African), has been identified. And we have this CAL.20C (California variant) here.”

In California, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties were among the firsts to implement mandatory travel quarantines. In early January, officials issued a statewide travel advisory urging residents to stay at home and avoid going on non-essential trips of more than 120 miles from their home residences.

On the other hand, non-residents were advised not to enter California in the meantime. A ten-day quarantine was also recommended to people who went out of the state and later came back. However, residents were not required to quarantine if they did not wish to do so. Authorities said the state advisory would remain in place, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

In a statement, Philips said lifting the San Francisco order was not a “travel free-for-all.” “Lifting this order does not mean that it’s now safe to just hop on a plane or go on a road trip to anywhere. The growing prevalence of variants, some of which were brought from abroad, is further proof that we have to be extra cautious,” she said.