NEW YORK — Travelers visiting New York from states with high COVID-19 infection rates and New Yorkers returning from these states are being ordered to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the new policy Wednesday morning, and said it would take effect 12 hours later, at midnight. The governors of Connecticut and New Jersey joined him for the announcement, as those states will impose the same restrictions.
Any state with a positive test rate greater than 10 percent or with more than 10 residents testing positive per 100,000 population is subject to the travel quarantine. As of Wednesday morning, the states in either category are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Washington.
New York and New Jersey have the highest and second-highest COVID death tolls in the nation; Connecticut is eighth but has a much smaller population than any of the top seven states.
All three states have also made great strides in controlling the virus, bringing down their infection rate, hospital census and daily death toll.
Cuomo, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said at a joint news conference Wednesday morning that they did not want the rapidly increasing number of infections in the other states to undo all the progress their states have made at such great cost.
Murphy said it was a reluctant decision but one they felt they had to make to keep the tri-state region safe. He said Connecticut, New Jersey and New York each will be responsible for enforcing the quarantine within their own borders.
However, there will be no army of greeters at airports, roadsides and bus terminals asking travelers where they’re coming from and registering those who mention Florida or Arizona.
Cuomo was asked about the efficacy of what is essentially an honor system.
“You could argue that any law is the honor system until you get caught,” Cuomo replied.
It is illegal to drive faster than the posted speed limit in New York but there’s nothing the state can do to stop people from breaking that law, except hold out the threat of fines for doing so, the governor said.
There is reason to comply with the new quarantine rule, beyond just concern for the well-being of fellow citizens: Those who are found to not be voluntarily quarantining will be placed in mandatory quarantine, will be billed for the cost, and will be subject to fines of $2,000 to $10,000, depending on whether they make other people sick.
Asked whether the state would halt travel from states where infection rates are surging, Cuomo answered: “That’s a blockade. I don’t believe that would be constitutional.”
Cuomo noted the ironic reversal the quarantine presents: Early in the crisis, as New York racked up the nation’s worst infection rates, some other states required New Yorkers to quarantine upon arrival. Now New York fares better than most states in COVID-19 metrics, and must protect itself from other places that haven’t been as careful in their response to the pandemic.
Meanwhile, in a continued sign of the state’s recovery, five of the state’s 10 regions are on track to go to Phase 4 reopening of their economies as soon as Friday. Among them is the Mohawk Valley, which includes Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie counties.
Next week, Western New York and the Capital Region are on track to begin Phase 4 as soon as Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.
There are four phases of reopening, each a minimum of 14 days long and each starting in a particular region only if it shows sustained progress beating back the virus and continued ability to respond to any resurgence.
However, the start of Phase 4 does not mean full reopening of the economy, large parts of which were shut down to slow the spread of COVID — the details are changing regularly, often with little notice.
Just Tuesday, the state said malls, gyms, movie theaters and outdoor theme parks would not be able to open in Phase 4.
A reporter Wednesday asked Cuomo if there would be a Phase 5 for places like malls, that traditionally draw large crowds from a broad geographic area, potentially creating a venue for transmission of the disease.
Cuomo said there has been no decision on any Phase 5. The situation is evolving; the state has developed new information on the virus that needs to be studied before a decision is made on places like malls, he said.
The governor did increase from 25 to 50 the number of people allowed to be present (with protective measures) at social gatherings in Phase 4 regions, and said indoor religious services could be conducted with congregations up to 33% of the building’s capacity.
As of Wednesday, here’s what is allowed to reopen — at reduced capacity and with extensively detailed infection control protocols — under current Phase 4 regulations:
- Higher education — community and junior colleges, universities, graduate and professional schools, medical schools and technical schools.
- Low-risk outdoor arts & entertainment — outdoor zoos, botanical gardens, nature parks, grounds of historic sites and cultural institutions, outdoor museums, outdoor agritourism, local agricultural demonstrations and exhibitions and other similar institutions/activities.
- Low-risk indoor arts & entertainment — indoor museums, historical sites, aquariums, and other related institutions or activities that have been permitted to reopen.
- Media production — all activities undertaken in motion picture, music, television, and streaming productions on set, on location, or at any production or recording site.
Here’s what is not allowed to reopen under current Phase 4 regulations:
- Any large gathering or event venues, including but not limited to establishments that host concerts, conferences, or other in-person performances or presentations in front of an in-person audience.
- Any facility authorized to conduct video lottery gaming or casino gaming.
- Any gym, fitness centers, or exercise classes, except for those providing remote or streaming service.
- Any movie theater, except drive-ins.
- Any indoor common portions of retail shopping malls with 100,000 or more square feet of retail space available for lease.
- Most places of public amusement, whether indoors or outdoors, including those with amusement rides, carnivals, amusement parks, water parks, arcades, fairs, children’s play centers, funplexes, theme parks, bowling alleys, family and children’s attractions.