Some New York City residents have been fleeing the area as the spread of COVID-19 continues; the state is currently the epicenter of cases in the U.S., and the epicenter of the epicenter is in the city. But residents of other towns and states are concerned about those headed their way.
Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo has deployed the National Guard and state police to hunt down New Yorkers who have entered the state and demand they immediately quarantine themselves for 14 days.
“What is constitutional in one scenario is different than in another. This is pinpointed, this is targeted, this is a state of emergency, this is limited in time, and it’s going to be enforced in a respectful way,” she said at a press conference Friday of the new policy. “And it’s a public health necessity.”
“That’s a law,” she added. “That’s an order. It comes with penalties. It’s not a suggestion.”
The National Guard will be stationed at “bus stops & at the train station to gather contact information from travelers and inform them of the quarantine. State Police will help us inform those who travel by car,” Raimondo tweeted.
Vehicles with New York plates will be tracked door-to-door in Rhode Island’s wealthy coastal enclaves, she added.
Governor Andrew Cuomo expressed surprise at Raimondo’s policy, wondering at his Saturday press briefing if this was “sensationalist” news.
The report out of Rhode Island that cars with NY plates are being stopped by RI state police is not a “sensastionalist news report,” as Cuomo claims. The announcement came from the RI governor yesterday. Strange that Cuomo is only learning of this today, from the media.
— Joe Mahoney (@TipMahoney) March 28, 2020
ABC News reports that Rhode Island has more than 200 confirmed cases. New York state now has 52,318 cases, Cuomo said Saturday.
It’s not the first time officials have pleaded New Yorkers to stay home — officials from the Jersey Shore to Cape Cod to the Catskills and the East End of Long Island have said the influx of city folks heading to vacation homes and rentals will not only spread the virus in those areas, but also overwhelm their infrastructure.
“We appreciate all of our second homeowners and our year-round community. But when you have a constant influx of new people from a hotspot in the New York metropolitan area, it’s harder to protect the people who are already here,” said Jay Schneiderman, the supervisor of Southampton Town on Long Island, in a phone interview with Gothamist on Saturday.
He added that Southampton was seeing triple the normal volume of occupancy compared to March 2019, a jump which the East End towns and hamlets are not prepared to handle.
The strain affects everything from the extra demand for supplies and groceries, to increasing police staff needed to enforce state mandates on quarantining and social distancing, to ramping up sanitation services for the additional garbage generated, he said. The town has seen about 269 confirmed cases, a number he expects to increase.
“You know, it just sort of prolongs how long it will take to get through this,” Schneiderman said. “We are used to a surge of population. But we have to kind to gear up for it, prepare for it. What we’ve seen is a sudden surge in population. Very, very rapid. In March where most of the summer homes are empty, now most of these homes are occupied.”
“We’re not trying to say, ‘Don’t come here.’ We get that some people, you know, they have summer homes, they have the right to use those properties. But we’re concerned about unnecessary uses and frequent travel,” he added.
President Donald Trump has also mentioned quarantining the tri-state area in some fashion. On Saturday, he tweeted “I am giving consideration to a QUARANTINE of developing “hot spots,” New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. A decision will be made, one way or another, shortly.” He has offered no further details.
Earlier this week we asked epidemiologist Stephen Morse about those fleeing NYC. “We’re seeing a lot of flight from the city, especially among those who can afford to go to, say, the Hamptons,” he said. “I’m not sure what the benefit is, perhaps it’s largely psychological. We’ve seen it in this pandemic, and throughout history … People see infection around them, and hope to escape it by fleeing. Instead, they may already be infected and are just bringing it to another place, perhaps even introducing it there.” He added that, “if I thought I might get sick, I’d rather be somewhere near a good hospital.”