All travelers flying into airports in New York state will now have to fill out a form providing contact and itinerary information or face a $2,000 fine, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Monday.
During a press conference, Cuomo said individuals who fail to comply with the state's emergency health order could face a court-ordered mandatory quarantine.
"Fool me once," Cuomo said. "We can't be in a situation where we have people coming from other states in the country bringing the virus again."
At the five New York City airports overseen by Port Authority, the state plans to have enforcement teams comprised of peace officers from state agencies along with Department of Health staff and Port Authority police officers. The enforcement teams will greet disembarking passengers to request proof of completion of the state traveler form.
To date, 39 states have reported growing caseloads, prompting concerns from New York and its neighbors that the tri-state region could face further outbreaks after having battled the pandemic to all-time low infection levels. In the absence of national leadership, Cuomo has held up New York as the standard bearer for how states should reopen.
And at nearly every press conference, he has also delivered a stinging rebuke of President Donald Trump's handling of the crisis.
"Trump's COVID scandal makes what Nixon did at Watergate look innocent," Cuomo said on Monday. "Nobody died in the Watergate scandal. Thousands of people are going to die in this COVID scandal and that is all the difference in the world."
New York's positivity rate has stayed below or just around 1 percent for over a month now.
The governor invited Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to join his briefing via video. Bottoms said that the city was “headed in the wrong direction,” with hospitals nearing capacity.
As of Sunday afternoon, cases were up over 23 percent, she said.
Cuomo announced he would send a team of state officials to Atlanta to help the city set up a testing and contact tracing initiative.
Speaking directly to Cuomo, Bottoms said, "We didn't have to look to Italy. We could look to New York and you told us very clearly if we didn't'’ do things differently in our cities and state we would find us in the same situation that New York is facing."
"In the South especially, we are getting there in rapid order," she added.
Cuomo, along with the governors of New Jersey and Connecticut, announced a 14-day-quarantine on June 24th for visitors from states with high coronavirus infection rates. Under the executive order in New York, the states are included in the quarantine category if they have more than 10 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day rolling average or if their infection rate is above 10 percent based on a seven-day rolling average.
As of July 7th, 19 states have met that criteria.
But Cuomo has been questioned about the state's ability to enforce the quarantine order. Despite saying in late June that the state would be performing random checks on airport travelers, there has been scant evidence that the policy is working.
Jennifer, a 34-year-old who lives in Williamsburg, told Gothamist that she had not received any information about the quarantine order when she flew from Dallas to La Guardia airport on June 28th.
"I get it," she said. "Because of everything New York has been through, you don't want some idiot from Texas and especially tourists [spreading the virus]. But I think it's completely unenforceable. People just have to self-regulate."
Warren Sears, a 26-year-old engineer who lives on the Lower East Side, who arrived at Newark Airport from South Carolina, said he had read somewhere that travelers arriving into the tri-state region would receive a questionnaire, but ultimately he did not get one.
However, he said his airline, Spirit, did send him links to quarantine information.
"That NYS document was actually pretty helpful in spelling out procedures and answering questions," he said. "It suggested they are relying on travelers to follow the order without much proactive enforcement."
Prior to leaving on his trip, Sears said he intended to fully comply with New York's quarantine order.
"I think it's ultimately the right thing to do. Just if you’re at a protest or in an at-risk situation, I think it's a logical policy," he said.
Not everyone, however, agreed with the governor's latest measure. In a sign of a potential legal challenge, the leader of minority party Republicans in the Senate, Robert Ortt, said on Monday that Cuomo’s order infringes on civil rights.
“This overreach of power violates the civil liberties of New Yorkers and citizens across this country, who do not need the government to threaten fines and quarantines in order to travel responsibly,” Senator Ortt said, in a statement. “This is putting an unwelcome mat at New York’s door. Such severe action will keep people and their dollars away, at a time when our businesses need them most.”
Ortt encouraged civil liberties groups to challenge the public health order in court.
Karen DeWitt contributed reporting.