© 2020 Focal Journal Inc.
Governors Tell Outsiders From ‘Hot Zone’ to Stay Away as Virus Divides States

MIAMI — Florida has a message for New Yorkers: Please don’t visit. And if you do, prepare to sit in quarantine or risk jail. Hawaii, which also thrives on tourism, is asking visitors to stay away for a month. And Alaska is requiring a 14-day quarantine for anyone entering from, as Alaskans put it, “outside.”

It is a rare circumstance in the United States, a country where travel between states is generally welcome and often only noticed in counts of tourism visits, that states are suddenly looking for ways to discourage residents of other states from coming into theirs.

Governors, who also now find themselves competing with one another for urgently needed medical resources like ventilators, say they are placing restrictions on visitors to save their own people, trying to prevent the contagious virus from spreading further into their states. They are on particular alert for travelers from New York City, which has far more confirmed cases than any other area in the country.

And in a spiraling health crisis that has largely been managed by individual governors rather than a cohesive federal government, there has been little to stop them from making their own rules.

On Tuesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican, signed an executive order requiring a 14-day quarantine of anyone who had arrived from the New York region over the past three weeks. All new arrivals will have to report names of people they have contact with to public health officials so they can trace those people as well, he said.

“Maybe they haven’t even shown symptoms, but they could be infected,” DeSantis said. “After all the hard work, we don’t want it to now get seeded as people flee the hot zone.”

Advertising

Last week, Gov. David Ige of Hawaii, a Democrat, did the unthinkable in a state that lives on entertaining visitors by asking travelers to postpone trips for 30 days.

“The actions I’m announcing today may seem extreme to some of you, and we know that it will have negative effects to our economy,” Ige said. “But we are confident that taking aggressive actions now will allow us to have a quicker recovery when this crisis is over.”

Gov. Mike Dunleavy of Alaska, a Republican, enacted one of the strictest measures Monday when he ordered almost everyone arriving in Alaska, whether they live there or are visiting, to self-quarantine for 14 days and monitor themselves for symptoms of the virus. The state has 42 diagnosed cases — a smaller number of confirmed infections than in all but three other states — as of Wednesday morning.

“If you are a resident, your designated quarantine location is your residence,” the order said. “If you are a visitor or worker, your designated quarantine location is your hotel room or rented lodging.”

Historians said it was difficult to recall a time in modern U.S. history when states imposed quarantine restrictions on residents of certain other states.

David Oshinsky, a medical historian, said he was not familiar with individual states taking such measures but noted that during several polio epidemics in the 20th century, local officials forbade “outsiders” from entering their jurisdictions.

Advertising

“In 1916, when newspapers blamed Italian immigrants in New York City for starting a serious polio outbreak, several surrounding municipalities used heavily armed policemen to patrol the roads and rail stations in search of fleeing New Yorkers and their children,” he said.

Other tensions — and some neighborly overtures — were rippling on state borders around the country as alarm over the virus continued to rise.

The $2 trillion stimulus package that was being debated by the Senate on Wednesday also had the potential to pit states against one another. Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, a Democrat, slammed it as “terrible” for the state, saying the $3.8 billion it would receive was “a drop in the bucket” given how hard New Yorkers had been hit by the virus.

The aggressive quarantine measures in Florida were met with skepticism by many residents who fault the governor for taking steps aimed at arriving New Yorkers instead of adopting stricter restrictions throughout the state. But the White House Coronavirus Task Force also has recommended that people who have passed through or left New York City place themselves into 14-day quarantine.

DeSantis has resisted calling on Floridians to stay in their own homes, unlike in New York, where Cuomo issued a statewide call for residents to only leave their homes if necessary.

(BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM.)

“Florida is pointing at New York, and everybody is pointing at Florida,” said Billy Corben, a Miami filmmaker who directed “Cocaine Cowboys” and has extensively chronicled the state’s colorful underbelly. “Because Florida.”

Corben pointed to the masses of young people who crowded the Sunshine State’s beaches for spring break in recent weeks, ignoring calls for social distancing. Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale eventually closed down their shorelines, and other jurisdictions followed suit, but their efforts might have come too late.

(END OPTIONAL TRIM.)

Mayor Dan Gelber of Miami Beach, a Democrat whose city was the first in the state to formally issue a stay-at-home order Monday, applauded the governor’s quarantine order of New Yorkers. At least 141 of Florida’s nearly 2,000 coronavirus cases have been linked to travel to New York, New Jersey or Connecticut, including about 8% of known cases in Palm Beach County.

“They’re coming from an area where it seems much more rampant than here,” Gelber said. “I worry that people coming here from New York are coming because they don’t like the stay-at-home order and they’re just looking to ride it out anywhere else. We cannot be the resort you go to right now.”

Some people who traveled to Florida acknowledged what they were leaving behind. Stephen Moosbrugger, who received quarantine orders when he landed at Miami International Airport on Tuesday evening on an American Airlines flight from LaGuardia Airport in New York, had hoped to be reunited with his wife in their Miami Beach apartment. He changed his mind after calling his son from the airport.

“He said, ‘Well, Dad, that’s really stupid,’” Moosbrugger, 64, recalled with a chuckle. “It’s a shame when your child is lecturing the father.”

So Moosbrugger, a certified public accountant who splits his time between Miami Beach and the Upper West Side of New York, hunted for a hotel room and found one in downtown Miami. He plans to ride out his quarantine there, calling his wife several times a day to chat.

Advertising

“Am I irritated? Well, I’m incurring an expense that otherwise I wouldn’t have had to incur, but I get it,” he said. “If we can flatten this — in New York, it’s just surreal. This is another place that has a chance to have a really crazy infection rate because of all the people that come here.”

A Florida Department of Health form that passengers must fill out requires them to list family members they are traveling with and to sign a page acknowledging that violating the 14-day quarantine can be punishable with up to 60 days of prison and a $500 fine.

DeSantis said last week that he had urged President Donald Trump, a legal resident of Florida, to restrict domestic travel between New York and Florida. More than 190 daily direct flights were arriving in Florida from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, according to the governor. When no restrictions came, DeSantis said he ordered quarantines.

Similarly, Gov. Wanda Vázquez of Puerto Rico imposed a two-week quarantine on all arriving passengers after her request to ground all domestic and international flights to the island went unheeded. And more states followed Wednesday, with Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, a Republican, saying that anyone who had recently been in the New York City region must quarantine for at least two weeks after arriving in Maryland. And Gov. Henry McMaster of South Carolina, also a Republican, asked all visitors who planned to stay in the state for two or more nights to quarantine for two weeks.

Medical resources have become another area of tension among the states. Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, a Democrat who has been a frequent critic of the Trump administration, said this week that he had found himself in the extraordinary position of competing against other states and federal agencies for medical supplies, a complaint echoed by other state officials.

“The truth is that I was on the phone yesterday talking to companies, and here’s what I ran into: In one case we’re competing for ventilators with FEMA and the federal government,” Pritzker said in a television interview. “So Illinois is bidding for ventilators against the federal government. In another case, we were bidding against foreign countries and other states.”

Advertising

And when the mayors of two northern Idaho cities, Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls, noticed that Washington state residents were flooding over the Idaho border last weekend, apparently because of the Idaho cities’ more relaxed rules, they swiftly banned bars and restaurants from serving dine-in meals.

Farther south, Mayor Randy Hibberd, of Weiser, Idaho, a city of about 5,300 people, said his city, which borders Oregon, was lucky to be far away from that state’s more populous regions, where confirmed coronavirus cases have increased. He said he was concerned about other Idaho residents driving from Boise to his city to raid the grocery stores.

“There isn’t any talk of restricting travel,” Hibberd said. “Eastern Oregon is essentially part of western Idaho.”

He said he had gone to a doctor’s appointment in Boise the other day, a trip that took him briefly into Oregon.

“I was asked when I got there if I’d been out of state, and I said, ‘Yeah, this morning,’” he said, laughing. “You can’t close things down.”