WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Saturday that he may order an “enforceable quarantine” for New York City and surrounding areas in New Jersey and Connecticut — prompting surprise and shock from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“This would be an enforceable quarantine. And, you know, I’d rather not do it, but we may need it,” Trump said.
Cuomo likened such a quarantine to a “federal declaration of war” on the city and state. “It would be chaos and mayhem. … I don’t think it is plausible. I don’t think it is legal,” he said hours later on CNN.
Such an order would be the most sweeping move so far in the effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the United States. In China, a two-month lockdown in Wuhan, where the new coronavirus emerged, began easing only on Saturday.
New York has roughly half of the nation’s confirmed cases.
“We’re looking at it and will be making a decision. A lot of the states that are infected — they’ve asked me if I’d look at it so we’re going to look at it,” Trump told reporters before boarding Air Force One for a short flight to Norfolk, Va., for a visit to a Navy hospital ship headed to New York. “It would be for a short time.”
Cuomo’s immediate reaction: No thanks.
“I don’t like the sound of it,” he told reporters in Albany. “I don’t know how that could be legally enforceable, and from a medical point of view I don’t know what you would be accomplishing.”
Trump added that he would not order the closure of the subway system in the nation’s largest city, reflecting that the quarantine he envisioned was aimed at stopping the spread beyond the tri-state area, rather than protecting residents of the city itself.
“Some people would like to see New York quarantined because it’s a hot spot — New York, New Jersey maybe one or two other places, certain parts of Connecticut quarantined,” Trump said at the White House before boarding Marine One headed to Joint Base Andrews, Md. “I’m thinking about that right now. We might not have to do it but there’s a possibility that sometime today we’ll do a quarantine — short term — two weeks for New York, probably New Jersey, certain parts of Connecticut.”
Trump indicated he was considering a quarantine because of complaints from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis about New Yorkers traveling to his state and spreading the contagion.
“Restrict travel,” Trump said, providing a broad outline of the idea. “Because they’re having problems down in Florida. A lot of New Yorkers are going down. We don’t want that. Heavily infected.”
He added that “this would be an enforceable quarantine. And, you know, I’d rather not do it, but we may need it.”
On Friday, the House approved, and Trump signed, a $2.2 trillion rescue package, unprecedented in size and scope, that includes bailouts for airlines, direct payments of $1,200 to most taxpayers, and extended unemployment benefits.
Lawmakers predicted that far more will be needed to restart an economy reeling from the effects of a pandemic that left millions jobless in a matter of weeks.
A quarantine on a city of 8.6 million would be unprecedented in the United States, and could be hard to enforce.
Manhattan accounts for only about 1.6 million of the city’s population. It’s connected to the other five boroughs, and to New Jersey, by bridges, tunnels and ferries. Staten Island has ferry and bridge connections. Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx would be much harder to isolate and in any case, as Cuomo noted, residents rely on deliveries of food and other supplies.
New York’s metropolitan area is home to 23 million people in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut who live close enough to commute for work, though it’s unclear how far out the possible quarantine zone would extend. Stock markets based in Manhattan that have seen unprecedented volatility in recent weeks would likely be disrupted.
On Thursday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order requiring anyone flying to Texas from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to self-quarantine for 14 days following their arrival in Texas. The order also included visitors flying from New Orleans.
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