Trump nixes NYC-area coronavirus quarantine that had governors in tailspin
President Trump on Saturday night backed off a daylong threat to lock down New York City and the tristate area — a proposal that had thrown three governors for a loop, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who likened the plan to starting a “civil war.”
“A quarantine will not be necessary,” Trump wrote in a series of tweets Saturday night, reasoning that a travel advisory would suffice.
Trump had said earlier Saturday that he was considering imposing an “enforced” two-week quarantine and travel ban on New York, New Jersey and parts of Connecticut in hopes of protecting the rest of the nation from the epicenter of the outbreak.
“We’d like to see New York quarantined because it’s a hot spot,” he said in a surprise announcement that blindsided Cuomo — who ripped the idea as “a Civil War kind of discussion.”
“This would be a declaration of war on states,” the governor said on CNN.
“If you start walling off areas all across the country, it would just be totally bizarre, counter-productive, anti-America, anti-social,” he said.
“We would be Wuhan, China, and that doesn’t make any sense.”
“We don’t have any details and aren’t sure what the president means by his comment,” a City Hall spokesperson weighed in.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said they, too, had not been consulted by the White House.
“Confusion leads to panic,” Lamont said.
The potential ring-around-the-epicenter had loomed as the pandemic’s toll continued its alarming rise.
Data released Saturday show the death rate from the coronavirus sharply accelerating in the Big Apple, with one person dying every six minutes in the 24 hours ending 4 p.m. Saturday.
At least 222 more people died in those 24 hours from COVID-19, bringing the death toll for the city to 672, with some 30,000 testing positive.
State and national numbers were also grim.
More than 700 are dead statewide, and more than 1,700 are on ventilators, the vast majority in city ICUs.
The United States remained the pandemic’s hardest-hit country, with more than 119,000 cases and some 2,000 deaths.
Those 2,000 deaths represent a two-day doubling in the death toll.
Trump had divulged virtually no details of his proposed lockdown, except to say it would exempt delivery trucks and vital personnel.
Even so, it would have been the biggest federal health quarantine since the Spanish-flu pandemic of 1918-19, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I’d rather not, but we may need it,” Trump had warned.
“New York, New Jersey, maybe one or two other places, certain parts of Connecticut, quarantined.”
The president spoke as he prepared to board his Marine One helicopter en route to Norfolk, Va. — where he oversaw the departure of the USNS Comfort hospital ship set to steam all day Sunday toward New York Harbor.
In threatening a lockdown, Trump singled out the risk to Florida, where state officials last Monday ordered fleeing New Yorkers to keep out or observe a mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival.
All incoming planes from the tristate area are being boarded by law-enforcement and state health officials under order of Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Governors in other states, including Maryland, Texas, South Carolina and Rhode Island, have issued similar keep-out-or-quarantine orders for fleeing New Yorkers.
But Trump’s tristate lockdown would have been the first quarantine to be federally mandated.
“They’re having problems down in Florida, a lot of New Yorkers going down. We don’t want that,” he said.
He doubled down later in the afternoon on a tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base, calling a potential quarantine of New York, New Jersey and at least parts of Connecticut “short term, two weeks.”
“Restrict travel,” he said, adding he has been in talks with DeSantis.
“This would be an enforceable quarantine. And you know, I’d rather not do it, but we may need it.”
Eight hours passed with Trump issuing no further clarifications on what the lockdown would entail, or how it would be enforced.
Neither did the White House.
“We are evaluating those options now,” Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told reporters vaguely.
Sen. Chuck Schumer said he, too, was in the dark.
“All decisions must be made based on facts, science and the best advice from our public health professionals — and it must be done in close coordination with our local and state officials. I implore the president to work with New York officials, follow the experts and make evidence-based decisions.”
The president would have been within his rights to issue an executive order mandating a quarantine in cases of communicable-disease outbreaks, including “flu that can cause pandemic,” according to the CDC.
Breaking a federal quarantine order could be punishable by fines and imprisonment, the CDC says.
Trump and Cuomo have not been totally at odds. Earlier Saturday, Cuomo noted with gratitude that the president had approved the opening of four new 1,000-bed sites for coronavirus treatment.
Also Saturday, Cuomo announced that the state’s presidential primary, previously scheduled for April 28, will now take place June 23, to coincide with that date’s congressional and legislative primaries.
Meanwhile, about 30 nurses and their relatives protested a shortage of masks and gloves in front of Jacobi Hospital’s emergency room in the Bronx, and demanded that the government provide protective equipment immediately.
The nurses stood six feet apart, holding signs reading “Health are before Profits,” “Respect Public Healthcare Nurses” and “We Risk Our Lives to Save Yours.”
Reaction to the threatened federal lockdown was mixed for New Yorkers, who since last Sunday have been coping with a state mandate that bars group gatherings and closes most businesses but does not prohibit residents from traveling into and out of the state.
“Trump wanting to close off the tristate area is, of course, disconcerting due to his history with walls and disdain for the state,” said out-of-work bartender Camille Larkins, 23, of Bedford-Stuyvesant.
“But the state of corona in New York right now is not good. We will never flatten the curve if we don’t contain and handle the problem.”
Additional reporting by Sam Raskin, Georgett Roberts, Bernadette Hogan and Nolan Hicks
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