14-day coronavirus quarantine call might not be enforceable


Good luck with that.

That, in a nutshell, was the take Wednesday from public health and policing experts after the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut announced that travelers from states where the coronavirus is raging would be required to self-quarantine for two weeks.

They said it is unenforceable, borders on the unconstitutional, and one pundit suggested it smacked of political payback against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who had required New Yorkers to self-quarantine for two weeks back in March when coronavirus cases were spiking in the state.

“I don’t know how you enforce something like this,” said Brian Higgins, an expert on crowd management security at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. “People are always going back and forth between states like New York and Florida, and if they’re not flying, they’re driving.”

“I suppose if they really wanted to they could start tracking people through E-ZPass, but I just can’t imagine they would go that far,” added Higgins, who previously was the chief of the Bergen County Police in New Jersey.

Dr.Sadiya Khan, an epidemiologist at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, agreed.

“The U.S. is not China, we’re not going to order a military lockdown,” said Khan. “It is sound advice to ask people from states with high levels of infection to self-isolate for two weeks. But I’m skeptical of how these restrictions can be forced.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey, and Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut said the quarantine order applies to states where the coronavirus infection rates are currently spiking, including Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Washington, Texas and Utah.

“It’s only for the simple reason that we worked very hard to lower the infection rate and we want to keep it down,” Cuomo said, adding that these particular states have been targeted because each has a positive coronavirus test rate of 10 percent. “People could bring the infection with them.”

Cuomo also insisted there would be a price to pay, namely fines ranging from $2,000 to $10,000, for violating the rule.

"No, you violate the quarantine, you will then have to do a mandatory quarantine and you’ll be fined," he said.

Hotel clerks would notify authorities about violators, and police would pull over motorists with license plates from states on the quarantine list, Cuomo said.

Lamont was somewhat vaguer about how this order would be enforced.

“What we are going to do is every single airport throughout our region, people will be noticed that these are the rules, you must self-quarantine if you haven't had a test within 72 hours, something like that,” Lamont said later on a call into the Fox Business Network. “We are going to notify hotels and Airbnbs that these are the rules so that people will know what the rules of the road are and they’ll follow them.”

Polly Price, a professor of law and public health at Emory University, said the problem with these kinds of pronouncements is they bump up against the constitutional right of U.S. citizens to travel from one state to another.

“No state can prevent you from coming in,” Price said. “What these states are doing is imposing conditions on that travel. When it goes from we’re going to request that you self-quarantine for a period of time to we’re going to arrest you or fine you if you don’t, that’s when constitutional issues become tricky.”

The U.S. has put into place international travel bans. For example, on Jan. 31 President Donald Trump barred foreign nationals who had traveled to China within the previous 14 days from entering the U.S., but not American residents or their relatives. This move by Trump came 10 days after the first confirmed case of coronavirus was reported near Seattle.

“The problem is within the U.S. states can’t do that because we have a fundamental right to travel from state to state,” said Price.

Last month, a federal judge struck down Kentucky’s attempt to ban people from coming in from other states with worse outbreaks and suggested, in the footnotes, following the model of neighboring Ohio which are “requests for the most part.”

“Ohio’s rules, there, do not appear overboard and have a rational basis for combating the coronavirus, while still preserving the population’s constitutional rights,” U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman wrote.

In Hawaii, which has had very few coronavirus cases, the Department of Justice on Tuesday called that state's 14-day quarantine rule for out-of-state and international travelers discriminatory and filed a legal challenge arguing that it “likely violates” constitutional protections of interstate travel.

DeSantis' executive order required that people coming to the Sunshine State from New York self-quarantine for 14 days.

The governor of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo, went a step further and dispatched the state police to stop motorists with New York license plates to inform them of her 14-day self-quarantine order.

DeSantis, who has taken a lot of heat for his state’s slow response to the coronavirus crisis, later claimed his move saved a lot of lives.

“I quarantined them in March, and everyone in the New York media was blowing a gasket (asking) ‘How could you do this?’” DeSantis later said.

Right now, however, Florida is experiencing a record spike in new infections, as are states like Texas and Arizona. There is no evidence yet that the Black Lives Matter protests that have swept the nation for the last three weeks are fueling the sudden rise in COVID-19 outbreaks.

There was no immediate response when NBC News reached out to DeSantis for comment now that New York is requesting that Floridians quarantine for 14 days when they visit. But earlier Wednesday, Frank Cerabino a longtime columnist for The Palm Beach post, wrote that Cuomo was giving DeSantis “a little bit of his own medicine in interstate coronavirus posturing.”

“Instead of taunting New York, Florida’s leaders would have been better off emulating New York’s response to the community spread of the virus,” Cerabino wrote.