New York, New Jersey and Connecticut issued a travel advisory Wednesday that requires people arriving from states with high coronavirus rates to quarantine for 14 days.
The travel advisory applies to anyone coming from a state with a positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents over a 7-day rolling average or a state with a 10% or higher positivity rate over a seven-day rolling average, according to a joint announcement from the governors of the three states.
“We have to make sure the virus doesn’t come in on a plane,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“We worked very hard to get the viral transmission rate down, and we don’t want to see it go up,” he added.
As of Wednesday, the advisory applies to Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and Texas. It begins tonight at midnight.
Washington state was originally in the list due to a discrepancy in their reporting, which has since been corrected, and the state was removed from the list, said Caitlin Girouard, a spokeswoman for Cuomo.
The announcement is a 180-degree flip from just a few months ago, when the tri-state area, and New York City in particular, was the epicenter of the pandemic.
In late March, President Donald Trump considered placing the three states under a quarantine, Rhode Island police stopped vehicles with New York license plates, and Florida directed all travelers from the tri-state area to isolate or quarantine for two weeks.
Months of strict lockdown rules, widespread testing and imperfect attempts at contact tracing have brought cases under control in the tri-state area and the region. New cases are on the decline this past week, compared to the week before in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
But now, states in the South and West are seeing what Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, called a “disturbing surge” in cases.
As of Wednesday, 26 states reported an increase in cases in the past week compared to the week prior, and that increase has been particularly stark in heavily populated states like California, Texas, Florida and Arizona.
How the restrictions will work
Each of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut will be responsible for its own enforcement of the quarantine. The states’ health commissioners will pursue an aggressive public relations campaign at airports, highways and other locations.
In New York, Cuomo said, those violating the quarantine could be subject to a judicial order and mandatory quarantine, and fines are $2,000 for the first violation, $5,000 for the second violation, and $10,000 if you cause harm.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said the advisory applies to everyone, including New Jerseyans returning home.
“This is not a polite recommendation, this is a strong advisory built on the back of the healthcare professionals,” he said. “We are asking folks to take on a big amount of personal responsibility here, to do the right thing for themselves as well as for their families, communities and the rest of us.”
When asked about the possibility of fines, he said the health commissioner “has within her powers to directly address an individual who is non-compliant.”
The new rules will not apply to Trump when he visits his Bedminster golf club this weekend.
“The President of the United States is not a civilian. Anyone who is in close proximity to him, including staff, guests, and press, are tested for Covid-19 and confirmed to be negative,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement.
Murphy said there is an exception for essential workers, which applies to the President, reiterating that people around the President are regularly tested.
“I think the bigger point here is we want folks to really be responsible in terms of thinking about not just themselves, but their family and their communities,” he said. “And we’ve beaten this virus down to a pulp in New Jersey with an enormous loss of life. We’ve been through hell, and we don’t want to go through hell again. And that’s the spirit that underpins what we’re asking folks to do.”
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said the governors “reluctantly” decided to institute the travel advisory.
“The Northeast region has taken this seriously,” he said. “But we’re not an island. And as we look around the rest of the country, you know, we have seen not just spikes, but we’ve seen real community spread.”
He described the advisory as voluntary but considered it “urgent guidance.”
Lack of national infrastructure
The interstate travel restrictions are just another consequence of the federal government’s inability to create a robust national public health infrastructure. The lack of nationwide rules and effective supply chains has largely left each state on its own and had the effect of pitting them against each other.
Even now, 19 states have no requirements for residents to wear face masks — the simplest and cheapest layer of defense against a virus with no vaccine and no widely effective treatment.
Indeed, Cuomo has openly mocked other states that he said were acting politically rather than scientifically.
“New York went from one of the highest infection rates in the country to one of the lowest because we made decisions based on science — not politics,” he said Tuesday. “We’re seeing in other states what happens when you just reopen with no regard for metrics or data. It’s bad for public health and for the economy, and states that reopened in a rush are now seeing a boomerang.”
As part of its phased reopening, New York required regions to meet certain metrics around testing, contact tracing, and hospital admissions and available beds. New York City, the final region to reopen, moved to the second phase of its reopening on Monday after seeing continued improvement in each metric.
Still, Dr. Richard Besser, former acting director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said no state has yet effectively reopened its economy safely.
“We have to figure out how to make that transition in a successful way, or every state that reopens, even those that have done a really good job at tamping this down, are going to see pretty dramatic rises and we’re going to end up back to where we were,” Besser said.