Texas orders 14-day quarantine of air travelers arriving from NYC area, New Orleans

Tribune Content Agency

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas is ordering air travelers from the tri-state area around New York City and from New Orleans to self-quarantine for 14 days after they arrive—to reduce spread of the novel coronavirus.

On Thursday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order that requires air travelers to isolate themselves at hotels or designated residences, avoiding public spaces, shunning visitors and having direct contact only with physicians or other healthcare providers.

An air traveler’s required self-quarantine must last 14 days — or for the person’s entire stay, whichever is shorter, he said.

The edict takes effect at noon on Saturday.

While Abbott warned that it will be enforced, with scofflaws potentially facing up to 180 days in jail, he emphasized the step was taken “simply to achieve the goals” of reducing the spread of COVID-19 that federal officials have said.

Abbott also took pains to stress that he acted in consultation with physicians Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, and Anthony Fauci, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.

Recently, Birx and Fauci urged travelers from the New York metropolitan area to self-quarantine for 14 days, to ensure the virus doesn’t spread to others, Abbott noted.

At a Capitol news briefing and in his written proclamation, Abbott quoted Fauci — who has become a household name during the pandemic — as saying those actions are necessary so New York does not act as a “seeding point to the rest of the country.”

In what may be a first, the Republican governor also quoted in his executive order, though not by name, a comment by New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio, a recent Democratic presidential hopeful.

“After the governor of Florida imposed a quarantine on all air travelers arriving from the New York Tri-State Area, … the mayor of New York City remarked to the press, ‘I understand it. We are the epicenter,’” the order recounts.

At the news briefing, attended only by a few of his aides and a media pool consisting of representatives of one cable TV station and one print news outlet, Abbott praised Texans for practicing social distancing.

“All of us have a linked responsibility to live up to the national standard to do all we can to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Texas,” he said, according to a Houston Chronicle pool report.

In “quintessential Texas fashion,” people in Texas are stepping up to help out and volunteer and offer donations, Abbott said. Retired and out-of -state doctors and nurses are offering up their time and expertise to fight COVID -19, he said.

“We are incredibly grateful to our medical personnel who are on the front lines of this war against the spread of this disease,” Abbott said.

More testing sites have opened, and state and local officials and hospital executives are racing to ramp up supplies of protective equipment, hospital beds and available medical personnel, he said.

In the Dallas region, Abbott said, there are 1,700 beds now available in the event they are needed for COVID-19 patients. In greater Dallas-Fort Worth, there are more than 2,300 hundred beds available if needed for treating the virus, he said.

Asked about ventilators, Abbott said Texas hospitals have enough for “immediate need” but the state still is querying them and laying plans to make sure the state has enough for a “worst case scenario.”

Asked about President Donald Trump’s stated hope to reopen the country by Easter, Abbott replied, “Way too early to tell right now.”

He acknowledged “an urgent desire to get back to work and get back to normal” after people have been constrained to homes. But he said medical professionals’ advice would guide his decisions.

“We wouldn’t want to suddenly open schools or businesses only to have to shut them down again,” he said.

Similarly, when asked when Texas public schools would reopen, Abbott said it’s too early to say.

The Trump administration has called for a 15-day containment, which is still under way, he noted. When that is over, Texas health and education leaders will reassess, he said.

“We will make a quick assessment with one goal in mind and that is to make sure we are putting the safety of students, educators and communities first,” Abbott said.

“We know we have more work ahead of us as we combat the spread of COVID-19 in Texas and we know that everybody in the state of Texas is up to that task,” he said.

On the air traveler, self-quarantine order, Abbott described public health as the only motivation.

“This is intended simply to achieve the goals that have been articulated by the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the White House organization focused on reducing the spread of the coronavirus in the U.S—and that is using every strategy possible to reduce the spread,” Abbott said.

Although California and Washington state also have been COVID-19 hot spots, Abbott said, “Interestingly, in our conversations today and in our prior conversations with Dr. Birx or Dr. Fauci …, none of those states had been mentioned as a potential quarantine state.”

Still, he said, “Those would be probably the next ones on the list if we were to expand it.”

He stressed that his executive order is written in a way that allows him to add states to the Texas air traveler, self-quarantine edict very quickly.

The order does not apply to people traveling by highway into Texas from either New York-New Jersey-Connecticut or New Orleans, Abbott said.

The Texas Department of Public Safety will administer the program, he said.

Air travelers flying to Texas from the places mentioned in his order will be given a form, on which they’ll provide contact information and designate their quarantine area while in Texas, he said.

“The Department of Public Safety troopers will conduct visits to those designated quarantine locations to verify compliance with this executive order,” Abbott said.

“Failure to comply with this order is considered to be a criminal offense that is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or 180 days in jail or both,” he said.

Abbott added, “During the quarantine period, the person shall not allow visitors into or out of the designated quarantine location other than a physician or healthcare provider, and shall not visit public spaces.”


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