Despite numerous warnings and entreaties to stay home, New York City officials said on Tuesday they still expected people to travel over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend or host groups outside of their pandemic pod. In preparation, Mayor Bill de Blasio has called the sheriff’s office.
New York City Sheriff Joseph Fucito said his team would set up various checkpoints to ensure anyone arriving from out of state has proof of a negative coronavirus test result, and they will issue $1,000 fines if they don’t.
“Sheriff teams will be out in force as the holidays approach. There will be vehicle checkpoints at key bridges and crossings throughout New York City,” Fucito said. “If you violate the travel quarantine there will be consequences.”
The city’s crackdown comes as federal data show nearly two million passengers traveled by plane this past week, the most since the pandemic began, even as the coronavirus surges across the country. Both the mayor and Governor Andrew Cuomo have tried to stem the tide, urging New Yorkers to accept that this holiday required sacrifice.
“It's not a normal Thanksgiving. It's not the traditional Thanksgiving. It's better than that. It's deeper than that,” Cuomo said on Tuesday. “It's more spiritual than that. It's more profound than that. Never in my life has there been a Thanksgiving that is more significant to me on such a deep level. It was about life and death this year. That's what we should give thanks to.”
Some of the entreaties to stay put have had an effect. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey predicted holiday air travel at JFK, Newark, LaGuardia and Stewart airports would be down a combined 70 percent compared to 2019, from 1.7 million people to a little more than 500,000 this year.
AAA predicted travel by car would be slightly lower this year, with 50 million compared to 55 million drivers people hitting the road last year.
“The wait-and-see travel trend continues to impact final travel decisions, especially for the Thanksgiving holiday,” according to Paula Twidale, a senior vice president at AAA Travel.
For those who still insist on traveling in and out of New York City, the local sheriffs plan to conduct random checks at border crossings and curbs where out-of-state buses arrive, to ensure travelers are in compliance with New York State travel guidelines. That means anyone arriving in New York from out of state—except the neighboring states—must get tested three days prior to arriving, then quarantine for another three days, and get a test on the fourth day.
Travelers must also submit a health form upon arrival. Anyone who fails to fill out the form or breaks the quarantine could be subject to a $1,000 fine.
Though de Blasio maintains that enforcement will be serious, as of mid-October only one out of state visitor had been issued summonses for violating quarantine rules.
The New York City sheriff’s website notes the checkpoint stops should only take five minutes and that even travelers passing through the state should still fill out the forms. Travelers from contiguous states are exempt from the quarantine and restrictions: New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont.
Mayor de Blasio said New York City’s test and trace teams will follow up with visitors to ensure they’re complying with the quarantine.
If you’re staying local, the subways and buses will be running on a Sunday schedule. On Thanksgiving and Friday, Metro-North will be running on a weekend schedule. The Long Island Railroad will run on a weekend schedule for Thanksgiving, and a regular schedule on Friday.
NJ Transit will also operate on a holiday schedule Thursday and Friday.
Still, the chairman of the MTA, Pat Foye, asked New Yorkers not to travel at all, if possible.
“With COVID-19 cases dramatically increasing around the country, we are encouraging the public to restrict travel this Thanksgiving during this once-in-a-hundred-year public health crisis,” Foye wrote in a statement, also urging riders to wear masks. “It's not only the right thing to do, but it's also the law.”
The MTA reported mask compliance was at about 95 percent across the commuter transit system.
Still, New York officials say staying home is the best thing anyone can do to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
"It's not too late to cancel your travel plans," Dr. Dave Chokshi, the city's health commissioner said on Tuesday.