After suggesting on Friday that it may be necessary to implement an “enforceable quarantine” on New York, New Jersey, and parts of Connecticut in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus, President Trump stepped back on Saturday, announcing that such drastic measures would not be forthcoming. Instead, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is issuing a strong travel advisory asking residents of the tri-state area not to travel to other parts of the country if it isn’t completely essential that they do so.
“On the recommendation of the White House CoronaVirus Task Force, and upon consultation with the Governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, I have asked the @CDCgov to issue a strong Travel Advisory, to be administered by the Governors, in consultation with the Federal Government. A quarantine will not be necessary. Full details will be released by CDC tonight. Thank you!” Trump tweeted on Saturday evening.
While states like Florida have expressed anger and concern about New Yorkers flying into other areas of the country, officials from the tri-state area were alarmed at talk of a quarantine zone.
“I didn’t speak to him about any quarantine,” NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a press conference on Saturday, referring to his conversation with Trump. “I don’t even know what that means. I don’t know how that could be legally enforceable. I don’t even like the sound of it.”
As Cuomo said, it isn’t immediately clear that the federal government has the right to maintain an enforceable quarantine against any particular state’s residents. That power is typically reserved for state officials, and while the CDC itself has the theoretical power to detain individuals infected with a communicable disease, even that limited authority would likely be challenged in court if they attempted to use it.
Trump has expressed concern (concern that is shared by other states like Rhode Island and Florida) that New Yorkers could be infecting the country by traveling away from one of the world’s worst coronavirus hot spots and into other states. This is a legitimate concern, of course, and it’s one that should be taken seriously.
On the other hand, there’s not a state in the Union that doesn’t already have community spread of this virus, so it could be a bit of a “lock the barn after the horse is out” kind of thing. After all, part of why New York looks so much worse than the rest of the country is simply due to the fact that they’ve tested so many more people.
Here’s the official statement from the CDC:
Due to extensive community transmission of COVID -19 in the area, CDC urges residents of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut to refrain from non-essential domestic travel for 14 days effective immediately. This Domestic Travel Advisory does not apply to employees of critical infrastructure industries, including but not limited to trucking, public health professionals, financial services, and food supply. These employees of critical infrastructure, as defined by the Department of Homeland Security, have a special responsibility to maintain normal work schedules. The Governors of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut will have full discretion to implement this Domestic Travel Advisory.