Snowbirds in limbo as coronavirus upends travel plans

Snowbirds in limbo as coronavirus upends travel plans

ORLANDO, Fla. — Retired Americans and Canadians who spend winters in the southern U.S. are stuck in limbo as the coronavirus pandemic has forced them to re-evaluate where to live the next few months.

The group, commonly known as snowbirds, is questioning whether it is safer to stay in their winter homes or head back north as travel restrictions from Florida to Canada go into effect.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisSunday shows preview: Biden foreign policy in focus as Dem tensions boil up back home Demings raises million after announcing Senate bid against Rubio Florida Board of Education bans critical race theory MORE (R) issued a stay-at-home order for South Florida on Monday, which serves as a part-time home for a number of snowbirds.


Meanwhile, north of the U.S. border, Canadian Prime Minister Justin TrudeauJustin Pierre James TrudeauCanadian man who killed four members of Muslim family to face terrorism charges Bennett sworn in as new Israeli prime minister, hails 'beginning of a new day' Trudeau says no deal on lifting border restrictions after talks with Biden MORE called on all Canadians abroad to “come home” earlier this month.

Snowbirds face an additional hurdle as individuals over 65 years old are at higher risk for developing serious cases of the disease.

“It began to really not be feasible to head north,” Barbara Klipper, a Provincetown, Mass., resident who has been wintering in Sarasota, Fla., for three seasons, told The Hill. “Pretty early on, we realized we weren’t going to go anywhere near airplanes, and it would involve three airports to get us home.”

Klipper, 69, said she and her husband had thought about making the four-day road trip back to Provincetown, but ultimately deemed it too risky.

“Just going through multiple states, staying who knows where, getting food from who knows where,” she said. “It just seemed to increase the risk exponentially."

The predicament for snowbirds showcases the broader travel concern for the well-traveled eastern seaboard. The tristate region, or greater New York City, area is the epicenter of the virus in the U.S. Many of the area’s inhabitants own winter or retirement homes in South Florida and travel to and from those areas on a regular basis.


DeSantis has sought to combat the spread from the greater New York City area by mandating that anyone in the state who has traveled from the tristate region to Florida self-quarantine for two weeks.

The governor also issued an executive order further restricting travel through the placement of checkpoints on I-95 roughly 13 miles south of the Georgia border and on interstate 10 near the Alabama border.

However, not all snowbirds have stayed put in their winter homes.

“The very first thing we saw was an influx of people wanting to leave Florida early,” Annie Davis, president of Palm Beach Travel, said. “They were afraid of getting sick and they were afraid of being away from their loved ones.”

Canadian snowbirds were among those who quickly hit the road after Trudeau called on the country’s traveling residents to return.

“I had two Canadian families this year both told me that the Canadian Prime Minister wanted everyone back,” said Terry Allen, the chairwoman of a condo community in Central Florida’s New Smyrna Beach. “The first [family] left a month and a half early … and then my last Canadian [family] left last Sunday. They were flying into Montreal.”

Quebec’s Premier François Legault made a direct call to his province’s snowbirds earlier this month, telling them it was time to head home.

However, as snowbirds continue to trickle over the border from the U.S., Canadian officials are urging caution.

“Snowbirds and travelers: when you arrive in Canada, you do NOT go to get groceries, drop off your RV, or visit the grandkids,” Jason Kenney, the Premier of Alberta, Canada, tweeted earlier this month. “You go - straight home, for 14 days. This isn’t a hint or suggestion; it’s a public health order.”

U.S. government officials are urging people of all ages to avoid all nonessential travel, pointing them to guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC does not typically issue travel advisories or restrictions within the U.S., according to its website. However, it has warned against nonessential travel.

“Following the CDC’s guidance means it’s no time to be out and about, in airports, at rest stops or wherever else such movement would take you,” an AARP Florida spokesman told The Hill. “What is safest is to stay indoors as public health officials direct.”

Medical experts are warning travelers of all ages to avoid the tristate area in particular.

“It’s a super high risk to go back because it’s the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Dr. Attila Hertelendy, the president and CEO of Coronavirus Response, a group that helps governments and agencies deal with the pandemic.

“If they absolutely do not need to, they should absolutely not be traveling at all,” he added.

In Florida, the state’s Surgeon General issued one of its most direct mandates of the pandemic yet on Saturday, sending a public safety alert to cellular devices across the state, ordering individuals over the age of 65 and those with medical conditions to stay home.

“I know relative to many, many people in this country, I’m very lucky,” Klipper said, referring to her current situation. “Being retired to I'm used to hanging out at home so it's not as big a disjuncture in my life. I just would love to feel safe if I go out for a walk or have to go out to the store."