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Cuomo explores legal means to enforce out-of-state traveler quarantine

Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a coronavirus briefing in late May.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office
Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a coronavirus briefing in late May.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday that New York is offering help to states like Texas and Arizona that are struggling with spiking COVID-19 infections.

At the same time, the governor said he’s talking with airport officials and federal border control officers on how best to enforce a travel advisory that requires travelers from states with high rates of the virus to quarantine for 14 days.  

Cuomo said New York is now at its lowest rate of infection since the pandemic began. Testing shows the rate of the virus in the state is at 1.3%. Fourteen people died of the disease on June 25.

He said his chief of staff, Melissa DeRosa, is reaching out to her counterparts in Texas, Arizona and Florida to see if the state can be of any assistance -- for instance, loaning ventilators or other medical equipment, or even National Guard soldiers.  

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“Our offer is open-ended,” Cuomo told reporters in a conference call. “However we can help.”  

The governor said many states helped New York in the spring, when the state was the epicenter of the virus in the United States, and he wants to repay the favor.  

At the same time, New York is continuing to require that travelers from states with high rates of infection go into quarantine for two weeks after they come here. It’s a reversal from March and April, when other states required that visitors from New York quarantine. At the time, the governor questioned the legality of such measures. Cuomo said he’s talking to airport officials, and even federal customs agents, on how New York’s travel advisory can legally be enforced. 

“We are talking to the airlines right now about our ability as a state to question people coming into our airports, gathering information from them, doing checks on them, temperature checks, etc.,” the governor said. “What is our legal authority, and how cooperative would the airlines be. We’re in the middle of that now.”  

The state is currently in litigation with U.S. Customs and Border Protection over the federal government’s move to ban New Yorkers from the Trusted Traveler Program due to a dispute over New York granting standard driver’s license applications to undocumented immigrants.  

The governor’s comments come as the White House coronavirus task force held its first public briefing in nearly two months. Cuomo said states that followed the guidance of President Donald Trump’s administration, which advocated for faster reopening of the economy and fewer precautions, like mandatory mask wearing, are now faring poorly. States like New York, which relied on science and data during its shutdown and cautious reopening with strict social distancing, are now doing well and have low rates of infection.

Cuomo said the two “theories” were tested, and the results are now in. 

“What are the results from testing of the theory in the laboratory of reality called America?” Cuomo said. “Let’s get past this silly political argument, who’s right, who’s wrong. Just took at the numbers.”  

The governor warned, though, that, unless New Yorkers continue to follow safety protocols, the virus could resurge. 

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.