States are pulling back the welcome mat for travelers from the New York area, which is the epicenter of the country’s coronavirus outbreak, but some say at least one state’s measures are unconstitutional.
Governors in Texas, Florida, Maryland and South Carolina this week ordered people arriving from the New York area —including New Jersey and Connecticut — and other virus hot spots to self-quarantine for at least 14 days upon arrival.
Connecticut officials have also pleaded with New Yorkers and others from out of state to avoid visiting unless absolutely necessary.
But, in the most dramatic steps taken to date, Rhode Island State Police on Friday began pulling over drivers with New York plates so that National Guard officials can collect contact information and inform them of a mandatory, 14-day quarantine.
Gov. Gina Raimondo ratcheted up the measures Friday afternoon, announcing she’ll also order the state National Guard to go door-to-door in coastal communities starting this weekend to find out whether any of the home’s residents have recently arrived from New York and inform them of the quarantine order.
The Democrat had already deployed the guard to bus stations, train stations and the airport to enforce the executive order, which also applies to anyone who has traveled to New York in the last 14 days.
“I know it’s unusual. I know it’s extreme and I know some people disagree with it,” she said Friday, adding that she has consulted with state lawyers.
“If you want to seek refuge in Rhode Island, you must be quarantined.”
Raimondo maintains she’s within her emergency powers to impose the measures, but the American Civil Liberties Union has called it an “ill-advised and unconstitutional plan.”
Governors have the authority to suspend some state laws and regulations in a state of emergency, but they can’t just suspend the Constitution, argued Steven Brown, head of the ACLU’s Rhode Island chapter.
“Under the Fourth Amendment, having a New York state license plate simply does not, and cannot, constitute ‘probable cause’ to allow police to stop a car and interrogate the driver, no matter how laudable the goal of the stop may be,” he said.
It’s the latest worry for civil rights and libertarian groups already concerned about fundamental freedoms being tossed out in the name of public health.
New York has more than 40,000 cases and more than 500 deaths from the virus, by far the most in the country.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.
Florida was the first state to try to deter fleeing New Yorkers, ordering tri-state area arrivals on Monday to go into mandatory quarantine for two weeks. It has since expended the restrictions to travelers from Louisiana. The federal government followed up Tuesday with a recommendation to do the same country-wide.
“If you were in New York state, you left when you were told to shelter in place,” Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said earlier this week. “You defied that and then you got on a plane and came here, and so we don’t want there to be any fallout here.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has warned that those who don’t comply with his Thursday order, which also extends to those coming from New Orleans, risk jail time. State troopers would be conducting visits to make sure people were staying put as required, he added.
Connecticut officials have voiced concern that people from New York and elsewhere are returning earlier than normal to their summer homes, but Gov. Ned Lamont has so far not issued an official order for out-of-staters to self-quarantine.
In Rhode Island, Raimondo stressed that contact information won’t be collected from drivers passing through the state. Commercial vehicles, including tractor-trailers, won’t be stopped either, so goods can continue to be transported across state lines uninterrupted, she said.
She’s also promised that any information collected from travelers will be used only for public health reasons and not for police or immigration purposes.
“New York City is a hot spot — their infection rate is skyrocketing — and they are so close to Rhode Island,” Raimondo said Thursday announcing the order. “There is a lot of panic in Rhode Island right now related to folks from New York coming to Rhode Island.”