NORFOLK, Va. — President Donald Trump backed away from calling for a quarantine for coronavirus hotspots in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, instead directing Saturday night that a “strong Travel Advisory” be issued to stem the spread of the outbreak.
After consulting with the White House task force leading the federal response and the governors of the three affected states, Trump said: “I have asked the @CDCgov to issue a strong Travel Advisory, to be administered by the Governors, in consultation with the Federal Government. A quarantine will not be necessary.”
Trump had told reporters earlier that he had spoken with Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, among others who wanted the federal government to restrict travel from the New York metropolitan area to their states.
The notion of a quarantine had been sharply criticized by the governors of New York and Connecticut.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has criticized the federal government’s response as his state became the country’s virus epicenter, said roping off states would amount to “a federal declaration of war.”
Cuomo said the prospect of a quarantine didn’t come up when he spoke with Trump earlier Saturday, adding that he believed it would be illegal, economically catastrophic, “preposterous” and shortsighted when other parts of the U.S. are seeing cases rise, too.
“If you start walling off areas all across the country, it would be totally bizarre, counterproductive, anti-American, anti-social,” Cuomo told CNN. He added that locking down the nation’s financial capital would shock the stock market and “paralyze the economy” at a time when Trump has indicated he’s itching to get the economy back on track.
Trump made his remarks while on a trip to Norfolk, Virginia, to see off a U.S. Navy hospital ship heading to New York City to help with the pandemic. At the event, he spoke to a sparse crowd at the naval base and cautioned Americans to take virus protections, even though he himself, at 73, is in a high-risk category and among those who have been advised to refrain from all non-essential travel.
The federal government is empowered to take measures to prevent the spread of communicable diseases between states, but it’s not clear that means Trump can ban people from leaving their state. It has never been tested in the modern era — and in rare cases when any quarantine was challenged, the courts generally sided with public health officials.
Courts have ruled consistently for years that the authority to order quarantines inside states rests almost entirely with the states, under provisions in the Constitution ceding power not explicitly delegated to the federal government to states. The federal government, though, would have power under constitutional clauses regulating commerce to quarantine international travelers or those traveling state to state who might be carriers of deadly diseases.
Still, “it is entirely unprecedented that governors or the president would prevent people from traveling from one state to another during an infectious disease outbreak,” said Lawrence Gostin, a Georgetown University law professor and public health specialist who questioned Trump’s ability to order a quarantine on states.
Administration officials were discussing less-stringent measures as well. One idea under consideration would be to tell residents of the hard-hit areas to isolate themselves and not travel for two weeks, just as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has instructed anyone who recently left New York to self-quarantine for 14 days, according to one person familiar with the negotiations who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing deliberations.
The measure wouldn’t necessarily come with any legal force or penalty, just the hope that people would comply in an effort to try to contain the virus spread.
The governors of Florida, Maryland, South Carolina and Texas already have ordered people arriving from the New York area to self-quarantine for at least 14 days upon arrival. In a more dramatic step, Rhode Island police have begun pulling over drivers with New York plates so that the National Guard can collect contact information and inform them of a mandatory, 14-day quarantine.