After a nearly 20-month long entry ban, the U.S. has lifted travel restrictions for vaccinated foreign travelers, causing a surge of travel. According to Customs and Border Protection, 206,990 international travelers arrived at American airports on Nov 8., just shy of pre-pandemic numbers. The most significant airport rushes took place in New York, Miami and other major cities.

The institution of the new policy has led to questions regarding its potential impact on the spread of the virus in the United States and whether a surge in travelers from abroad can be managed without incident. 

Francis A. Galgano, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Geography and the Environment, teaches medical geography at the University and has a comprehensive understanding of the pandemic and, what he calls, “absorbing barriers.”

Absorbing barrier is a term that can be applied broadly and generally means a point of impenetrability. In medical terms, it can be described as a prevention measure aimed at curbing transmission. 

“When you look at the pandemic, diseases spread in a number of ways – expansion diffusion,” Galgano said. “The vaccine is an example of an absorbing barrier, and it serves as a functional absorbing barrier to prevent the disease, just like a travel restriction. Various communities, political and scientific, have decided that the combination of the vaccine and lower virus rates has reduced risk from travel.” 

While Galgano said it is hard to predict how people will respond or whether it will cause a surge in transmission, he said, “(officials) are using well established protocols and (he) trust(s) in their judgement.”

He noted that this move will likely stimulate economics, get the airlines back on their feet and boost tourism. 

Foreign travelers greatly stimulate the economy, and during the pandemic this source of economic support has been severely constricted. According to Trading Economics, “international tourism receipts decreased by roughly 63 percent in 2020 over the previous year, amounting to around 538 billion U.S. dollars.” The government and businesses alike hope that the reintroduction of foreign travel can safely restimulate what has been a dormant part of the economy. 

Professor Galgano trusts that officials have “made a risk calculation that the vaccination numbers and reduction of transmission of the delta variant will allow travel and the economy to get back on track.”