Coming Here from a COVID-19 Hotspot? NJ Says Travelers Must Quarantine Themselves

New Jersey joins neighbors from New York and Connecticut in announcing measures governors say intended to keep coronavirus outbreaks in check
Credit: NJTV News
Travelers at Newark Liberty International Airport in early February 2020

Out-of-state travelers are being asked to quarantine themselves for two weeks when they arrive in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, if they are coming from a state with high COVID-19 rates or ongoing spread of the virus.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy — who has hinted at such a strategy in the past — joined New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont for an online news conference Wednesday to announce the travel advisory, which takes effect at midnight.

Murphy said later the advisory, which he described as “not a polite recommendation,” would be accompanied by a public relations campaign with billboards and airport signs to inform visitors; hotels will also be asked to spread the message. But compliance depends largely on the goodwill of those visiting, he acknowledged.

The 14-day quarantine order applies to travelers from states with greater than 10 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents or a positivity rate of 10% or above, over a seven-day rolling average. Cuomo, who led the event, said this currently applied to nine states: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Washington, Utah and Texas.

The quarantine also applies to residents of the tri-state region that visit “highly impacted states,” those with COVID-19 rates above the threshold outlined, and return home. The state will maintain a list of these impacted states on its website, which the governor’s office said would be updated daily.

“It’s not just folks who live in other states and come to visit,” Murphy said.

Limited enforcement mechanisms

When pressed by reporters, both Murphy and Cuomo conceded that enforcement mechanisms are limited. Murphy framed it as “advising visitors … to join us on this mission” to reduce the spread of the virus. “Constitutionally, we’re not able to put up border checks around New Jersey. Travel from one state to the next is something that’s allowed,” Murphy said.

“You can argue that every law is the honor system, until you get caught,” Cuomo said, noting that those caught in New York would face fines that are “thousands of dollars.” Murphy indicated fines were unlikely in New Jersey but said Department of Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli had enforcement capacity, if needed, although he did not elaborate.

The governors stressed the travel advisory is designed to protect the gains seen in the tri-state region, where COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have been declining and stir-crazy residents are emerging after three months at home. The region — New Jersey and New York in particular — suffered significant health and economic impacts as a result of the novel coronavirus, which has been diagnosed in nearly 170,000 Garden State residents alone, including close to 13,000 who have died.

“Ours was the most impacted region in the nation and among the most impacted (regions) in the entire world,” Murphy said. He said requiring quarantine for travelers from states with high COVID-19 rates is “the right thing to do. It’s the commonsense thing to do. It’s the responsible thing to do.”

New Jersey is now in what Murphy described earlier this week as the “middle of Phase Two” with additional entities, including casinos, racetracks and indoor dining, slated to open — with restrictions — at the end of next week, assuming the case count and hospitalizations don’t start to tick up again. “We welcome everyone to New Jersey, but we simply ask you to join us in our shared sacrifice to keep us moving in the right direction,” Murphy said at a separate media event later on Wednesday.

In the past, Murphy has indicated he was considering options to keep visitors from what he termed “lowest common denominator states” — with fewer infection protection protocols in place — from infecting New Jerseyans.