New York today added Kansas, Oklahoma, and Delaware to what is now a list of 19 states where Covid-19 is spreading rapidly. Travelers from the states, where there has been a positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 or an average rate of infection of at least 10 percent over a rolling seven-day period, will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arriving in New York. Failure to observe the quarantine order could result in a $2,000 fine. But it’s not clear how the order will be enforced or whether it will be effective in curbing the spread of the virus.
On June 30, five days after Gov. Cuomo issued the executive order, a traveler from Arizona landed at JFK airport. She told Bedford + Bowery that she and her fellow passengers were required to fill out a state Department of Health form that provided information on Cuomo’s travel advisory and asked for basic personal details. It also asked if the person was experiencing coronavirus symptoms like fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, and if they are essential workers. According to the traveler, no one at the airport collected the forms; there was only a cardboard box by the baggage claim, near an information board about the Covid-19 travel advisory.
At the baggage claim, our source overheard a son telling his elderly parents who had flown in on the same flight that the honor system was ridiculous. His parents hadn’t even seen the collection box, and it didn’t seem like they ever dropped their papers in it.
Since the coronavirus outbreak started in March, several states have imposed 14-day mandatory self-quarantines for people entering from out of state. Yet there is no “evidence-based data” to prove the effectiveness of state quarantine measures for travelers, according to Robert Redfield, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In March, Florida, Texas, Rhode Island, Maryland, and South Carolina ordered people arriving from the New York area to self-quarantine for at least 14 days upon arrival. New York travelers to Florida, including those entering by roadways, had to provide written information about their travel origin and quarantine location. Florida Highway Patrol and County Sheriffs set up checkpoints along highways and roads to enforce the order. In Texas, special agents from the Department of Public Safety conducted unannounced visits to quarantine locations, as provided on the traveler’s form, and verified compliance with the order. For a few days, Rhode Island State Police pulled over drivers with New York plates at the state border to collect contact information and inform them of the quarantine order. The state later reversed the order and asked all out-of-state travelers to quarantine after Cuomo threatened a lawsuit. The new executive order did not specify enforcement protocols.
Internationally, several countries that imposed 14-day mandatory quarantines have seen positive results. In March and April, thousands arrived in China daily from across the world. The onetime coronavirus hotspot didn’t report a resurgence of cases and thanks to the strict enforcement of quarantine, the imported cases were quickly under control.
However, China’s enforcement measures were much more stringent than what New York’s appear to be. Travelers to China found themselves navigating a variety of quarantine policies from local authorities. Some were taken straight to a local hotel for a 14-day quarantine and interacted only with people in protective suits. Others followed the mandate at home with surveillance cameras installed outside their apartments or a seal across their doors.
On the other hand, Gov. Cuomo has said that New York would rely on random checks. “You fly into New York, we’ll have your name, we’ll know where you’re supposed to be staying. There’ll be random checks,” he said shortly after issuing the executive order. “You get pulled over by a police officer and he looks at where your residence [is] and says how long have you been here? You get sick and you go to a hospital from out of state and you test positive and you’re within the 14 days, you’ve violated the law. You’re going to have a problem.”
A spokesperson for the state Health Department told Gothamist that travelers were being checked on “randomly,” and that only 4,600 air travelers had voluntarily filled out questionnaires during the first week of New York’s quarantine. A copy of the questionnaire obtained by Lohud shows that it asks travelers whether they’ve recently traveled to a state determined to have significant community spread, and asks them for their New York address and other contact information.
Compare this to Singapore, which also imposed strict quarantine mandates in hotels and private residences. In March, authorities made sure people complied with the stay-home notice by asking them to text their location and photos of themselves in recognizable surroundings. Private condo residents could expect check-ins from building management. Now, in addition to the mandatory stay-home notice, all travelers will be tested before the end of their quarantine period. Except for a spike in April among migrant workers, who are not subject to mandatory quarantine, the country’s case count has been steadily declining.
When the coronavirus first broke out in Wuhan, China at the end of February, South Korea required any national arriving from Wuhan to observe a 14-day quarantine. The country also developed methods for rapid and broad testing. Starting April 1, all travelers arriving in South Korea were asked to quarantine for two weeks. As soon as they land at airports, travelers are required to download an app allowing health authorities to track their whereabouts. The case trajectory in South Korea shows that after a surge of new cases from the last week of February to the first week of March, new cases have remained low ever since.
It’s worth noting that these countries also implemented measures such as widespread testing, national-wide lockdowns, contact tracing, and cautious reopening plans.
Along with New York, the states of New Jersey and Connecticut issued a joint travel advisory that will be communicated on highways, websites, social media, and at airports. Hotels will also be asked to “communicate the 14-day quarantine to guests who have traveled from one of the impacted states,” the order reads.
Bedford + Bowery reached out to several New York City hotels and learned that guests were expected to follow the quarantine order, but there were no protocols in place to ensure their compliance. When asked what would happen if guests left the hotel during the quarantine period, the phone receptionist at Hilton Garden Inn in Midtown answered that they may not be stopped, because “they didn’t really give us information on what’s going to be enforced and what wouldn’t be.”
During a press conference Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the quarantine “can’t just be a theory” and outlined his plan for making enforcement “come to life”: “It has to involve the Port Authority Police because they’re in the best position to act on folks coming in through the airports, for example. But what I think would work – and we’re going to work with the State on this – is to get from the State, the names and contact information of anyone that comes in from one of the states with the biggest problems, and then use our Test and Trace Corps to follow up with them the same day and make sure they understand the rules of quarantine, make sure they have everything they need to stay safe, and keep everyone else safe.”
The day Cuomo’s order went into effect, Jonathan Corbett, a California-based attorney who owns a Brooklyn bar, filed a lawsuit against Cuomo over the restrictions requiring out-of-state individuals to self-quarantine, stating that the order is an “abridgement” of his right to travel and “unconstitutional.” A federal judge ruled Thursday that Corbett would need public health experts to prove the ineffectiveness of the order.