Chicago Department of Public Health modifies Emergency Travel Order to better protect Chicago residents amid a surge in COVID-19 cases

November 10, 2020

New system places states in red, orange or yellow categories and will be updated every two weeks

Andy Buchanan

CHICAGO – The Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) is revamping its Emergency Travel Order to better reflect the changing nature of the pandemic and provide more specific guidance to travelers entering or returning to the city amid a surge in COVID-19 cases locally and nationally. Under the new system, states will be placed in three categories – red, orange and yellow – based on the status of the outbreak in the states and how the data compares to the situation in Chicago.

Previously, states with more than 15 new COVID cases per day, per 100,000 population automatically went on the quarantine list, requiring visitors and Chicagoans returning from these states to quarantine for 14 days. The new guidance is as follows:

  • Yellow: States with a rolling 7-day average less than 15 cases/day/100k residents.
    • No quarantine or pre-arrival test required. Maintain strict masking, social distancing and avoidance of in-person gatherings
  • Orange: States have a rolling 7-day average between 15 cases/day/100k residents and the Chicago rolling 7-day average (currently 60)
    • 14-day quarantine OR pre-arrival negative test no more than 72 hours before arrival in Chicago with strict masking, social distancing and avoidance of in-person gatherings
  • Red: States have a higher 7-day rolling average of positive cases/day/100k Chicago residents.
    • 14-day quarantine

“First and foremost, I would like people to avoid travel at this time if at all possible. But by creating a tiered system and using Chicago’s case rate as a category threshold, it allows us to be responsive to the changing dynamics of the pandemic,” said CDPH Commissioner Allison Arwady. M.D. “This measure is a response to increased rates of COVID-19 transmission in Chicago and across the nation, and it sets up measures to mitigate transmission in our city.”

The new guidance will go into effect on Friday, November 13, 2020, at 12:01 a.m., and it will be updated every two weeks, although this initial version will be updated after one week to get on a two-week cycle that will avoid conflict with the Thanksgiving weekend. Regardless of category, people are urged to avoid non-essential travel and to follow standard COVID-19 mitigation practices such as wearing a mask, washing hands frequently, and social distancing.

Based on current data, this is where states fall:

  • 6 yellow states (no requirements): New York, California, New Hampshire, Maine, Hawaii, Vermont
  • 31 orange states and Puerto Rico (must quarantine or receive a pre-arrival negative test result): see map below
  • 12 red states (must quarantine): North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, Minnesota, Utah, Idaho, Kansas, Indiana

Orange states that weren’t on the travel order list the last time it was updated are Michigan, Connecticut, Arizona, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Georgia, Maryland, Oregon, Washington, Louisiana.

Chicago has experienced several weeks of rising new daily cases, and the test positivity rate has increased steeply and is now 13%. The city is now seeing more than 1,600 new daily cases based on a 7-day rolling average, which is a higher rate than at any time during the pandemic.  

Quarantine helps prevent the spread of disease before a person knows they are sick, including if a traveler has been infected with the virus but does not have symptoms. In this order, quarantine means staying at a single designated home or dwelling for 14 days before doing any activities outside of the home or dwelling. People in quarantine should separate themselves from others as much as possible and check themselves for symptoms. The requirements to safely quarantine can be found here.

The City’s goal is to educate travelers about the order, and it will be communicated through signage at O’Hare and Midway airports, on highways and roadways, as well as through City websites and social media channels. Individuals found in violation of the order can be subject to fines of $100-$500 per day, up to $7,000.

Exceptions to the order for personal travel will be permitted for travel for medical care and parental shared custody, and for business travel to Chicago for essential workers. The Commissioner of Health may grant additional exemptions based upon an organization’s or business’ testing and other control policies. 

Essential workers are defined as individuals who work in critical infrastructure as designated by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. They are exempt from the requirement to self-quarantine and/or pre-arrival testing if traveling for work purposes, certified in writing by the worker’s employer and made available for review by authorized officials from the Chicago Department of Public Health and Chicago Police Department. This includes any state, local, and federal officials and employees, including members of the military, traveling in their official capacities on government business.

Such essential workers traveling for work purposes are subject to requirements that include limiting their activities to work-related activities and functions that directly support their work-related activities and avoiding public spaces as much as possible.

There are other exceptions to the order, as well. For example, it does not apply to any individual passing through designated states for a limited duration (less than 24 hours) through the course of travel, such as travelers changing planes at certain airports or driving through designated states. Additionally, exceptions are in place for daily commuters to and from neighboring states.

The quarantine and pre-arrival testing requirements apply to people even if they have no COVID-19 symptoms. Travelers coming from international locations should review the Centers for Disease Control travel recommendations by country and follow Illinois Department of Public Health guidance.

Information about the exceptions to the order and answers to other questions can be found here.


Travel Advisory

Required upon arrival in Chicago


Above *Chicago’s
avg. daily cases per 100k residents

Avoid travel

14-day quarantine


15.0 to *Chicago’s
avg. daily cases per 100k residents

Avoid travel

14-day quarantine

Pre-arrival negative test with strict masking, social distancing and avoidance of in-person gatherings


0.0 to 15.0
avg. daily cases per 100k residents

Avoid non-essential travel

No quarantine or pre-arrival test required. Maintain strict masking and social distancing