State health officials release travel guidelines, while some question 14-day quarantine order

Jun 25, 2020

A 14-day quarantine for travelers entering New York from certain other states took effect early Thursday morning. The New York State Health Department has posted guidelines. In the meantime, pushback from lawmakers includes a mix of understanding for public health safety but also concern for potential constitutional and commerce issues.

Under guidelines issued by the health department, travelers entering New York must enter a 14-day quarantine if they come from states where COVID testing shows positive returns of higher than 10 per 100,000 residents, or higher than a 10-percent positive rate over a seven-day rolling average.

Several states qualify under that criteria: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Utah.

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, during a visit to Erie County Thursday, defended Governor Cuomo's executive order. She also noted that weeks ago, Florida was requiring a similar quarantine for New Yorkers traveling into the Sunshine State.

"Florida had no trouble quarantining people who came down from New York State, especially during the spring break holiday time, and I know personally people who drove down with New York license plates, and they were told to go in a different lane off of Route 95 and register, let people know where they're going to be and they had to stay there for two weeks," Hochul said. "There's nothing wrong with that. There's nothing wrong with making sure that you protect your state."

New York State leaders are now taking pride in lowering its COVID cases as portions of the state prepared to enter Phase Four on Friday. The five counties making up the state's Western New York economic region (Erie, Niagara, Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua) were on pace to get the go-ahead to enter Phase Four on Tuesday, June 30. Leaders are now concerned about people coming into New York from states where COVID cases are now escalating.

But some state lawmakers, while agreeing with the administration's desire to prevent a new wave of cases, are concerned about potential problems with the quarantine order.

"It raises questions about interstate commerce and really the constitutionality of it," said State Senator Patrick Gallivan.

While stating New York has taken appropriate steps for the good of health safety, with those moves come hardships on travelers. There's also the question of whether state police would be expected to stop vehicles with out-of-state license plates as a means to help enforce the quarantine. Gallivan, a former Erie County Sheriff and New York State Police Captain, says officers must have a probable cause beyond out-of-state plates to justify pulling a motorist over.

"At the same time, the governor has said that enforcement is going to be left up to the local level. And so it'll remain to be seen," he said. "I think that most police agencies and police officers, even prosecutors, will give pause as to whether or not that's a legitimate reason for a stop."

Gallivan also suggests while the quarantine and enforcement is well-intended, it's also disrespectful to citizens who have done everything asked of them, and are still doing, during the state's coronavirus crisis.

"This is a travel advisory right now. We're asking people to adhere to this," Hochul said. "We're not trying to be heavy handed. That is not our objective."