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 Cuomo's quarantine order for travelers likely to hold up in court, legal experts say 

Arriving travelers walk by a sign in the

Arriving travelers walk by a sign in the baggage claim area of Terminal B at LaGuardia Airport on June 25. New York, Connecticut and New Jersey are asking visitors from states with high coronavirus infection rates to quarantine for 14 days. Credit: AP/Kathy Willens

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s quarantine order for travelers from 16 high-coronavirus-infection states likely would hold up in court if challenged, legal experts say.

But a week after it went into effect, one Long Island state lawmaker said that with enforcement a “logistical nightmare,” it’s designed to discourage travel rather than impose widespread quarantines.

Cuomo, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said last week that the tristate travel advisory, which requires 14 days of self-isolation upon arrival in the area, is aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus from states with high, and growing, infection rates. 

New York has collected information from more than 4,600 travelers at airports across the state, said a top Cuomo administration official close to the situation who asked not to be identified.

Local health departments are then asked to randomly check to ensure travelers are obeying the quarantine, the official said. The Suffolk County Health Department said in a statement that “currently, 102 travelers are being monitored” by contact tracers who will monitor them daily for 14 days, but department officials did not explain how tracers verify that the person is self-isolating.

Nassau County phones travelers daily, but asked how to ensure people are truly quarantining, health department spokeswoman Mary Ellen Laurain said, “We emphasize the importance of the quarantine order and what it means … We’re not going door to door."

Nassau is monitoring 70 travelers, she said, adding those are all the names the health department provided.

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“These are the people who self-identified and voluntarily filled the out forms,”  Laurain said.

Legal experts said the quarantine order does not appear to violate either the state or U.S. constitutions.

The U.S. Constitution generally prohibits one state from discriminating against residents of another. But the quarantine does not appear to violate that clause because it applies to tristate residents returning from travels in the 16 states, as well as to residents of other states, said Eric M. Freedman, an expert on U.S. constitutional law at the Hofstra University Maurice A. Deane School of Law.

Freedman said “it’s based on objective criteria related to disease,” infection rates are reviewed regularly, and it does not stop people from traveling.

Cuomo cited Article 4 of the state Constitution in his executive order on the quarantine. It “gives the governor broad power to respond to emergencies," said Roderick M. Hills Jr., an expert on local government and constitutional law at New York University.

Enforcement details are still fuzzy. Cuomo said last week that passenger arrival data from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey — which operates Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark airports — would, for example, help police determine if someone they pulled over for a traffic offense may have recently arrived from one of the quarantine states and is violating the order.

Yet in a news conference June 25, a day after Cuomo made the announcement, Port Authority chairman Kevin J. O’Toole said he wasn’t aware of such a database and emphasized that “our role is that it’ll be informational,” such as signs placed in airports, and “we’ll leave that to the various states to enforce.”

A Port Authority spokeswoman did not respond to questions on whether such a database was ever created.

Nassau and Suffolk officials did not answer queries on whether there’s a Port Authority database police can access.

Airline passengers are given forms to fill out with personal information — including where they’ll be staying in New York — before landing, the Cuomo administration official said. Passengers then voluntarily deposit forms in drop boxes at gates, with some in-person compliance spot checks at gates by state employees, the official said.

“We do not have the personnel to be at every gate every time a flight comes in…,” the Cuomo administration official said. “We want everyone to voluntarily comply.”

The official said Long Island MacArthur Airport is one of the participating airports. Caroline Smith, spokeswoman for the Town of Islip, which owns the airport, said Wednesday that MacArthur hadn’t been notified about the installation of any drop boxes or visits from state officials. On Thursday evening, though, the state contacted the airport, saying it wants tables and chairs set up to query passengers, Smith said.

Representatives for American, Delta and Southwest airlines said passengers are given the forms before they land at a tristate airport.

Assemblyman Michael Montesano (R-Glen Head), who supports the quarantine, said enforcement is “a logistical nightmare.”

Many people arrive in New York by road, bus and train, and, with no checkpoints, “I really don’t see people doing this on a voluntary basis," he said.

“I think he’s trying to discourage people from coming here” rather than expecting widespread compliance with the quarantine, Montesano said, referring to Cuomo.

The Cuomo administration official said travelers arriving by road could call their local health departments or a state hotline to notify the state of their arrival.

A similar quarantine that Florida imposed for tristate residents in March remains in effect, even though Florida on Wednesday had more than 11 times as many new coronavirus cases as New York, according to health department data from the two states. 

Florida has collected more than 209,000 traveler forms, from airports as well as interstate checkpoints, a Florida transportation department spokeswoman said. A Florida Highway Patrol spokesman said the highway patrol “has conducted nearly 900 randomized follow-up checks on travelers to ensure compliance” but did not offer details.

QUARANTINE ORDER

Visitors from 16 states with high coronavirus infection rates must self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, under a quarantine order that went into effect June 25.

  • Eight states initially were on the list: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Utah. Eight more states were added Tuesday: California, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada and Tennessee.
  • States can go on and off the list, based on whether they fall under the qualifying criteria, which are a positive test rate of higher than 10%, or a positive test rate above 10 per 100,000 residents, both over a 7-day rolling average.
  • Penalties are up to $2,000 for a first offense, $5,000 for a subsequent offense within 12 months of the first, and $5,000 for a violation that “directly results in serious physical harm to any patient or patients.”
  • Florida imposed its own quarantine on tristate residents in March, when the New York City area had by far the most coronavirus cases in the country. But Florida now has far more new cases: 10,109 on Wednesday, compared with 875 in New York.
SOURCES: Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo executive order and comments; New York State public health law; Florida and New York health departments.

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