This story is developing and will be updated.
The governors of Connecticut, New York and New Jersey jointly outlined protocols Wednesday for self-quarantine measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 by visitors from states experiencing a resurgence of the disease and an alarming spike in hospitalizations.
We depend on your support. Donate to Connecticut Public today.
In a video announcement interrupted by technical glitches, Governors Ned Lamont of Connecticut, Andrew Cuomo of New York and Phil Murphy of New Jersey said their states will act uniformly to keep air travelers from undermining their successful efforts to slow COVID-19.
The move by three Democratic governors largely is an educational measure that seems intended to reinforce and publicize current practices in Northeast states that have flattened the curve of new cases, while discouraging tourism from states with higher infection rates and less stringent precautions.
It also has political overtones, coming from three blue states as President Donald J. Trump is resuming campaign rallies, with a mix of support and concern expressed by Republican governors and other elected officials.
Cuomo, who has been criticized for allowing the virus to take hold and praised for his subsequent response, took pains to blame the pandemic’s early tri-state impact on a federal government that focused on the initial outbreak in Wuhan, China, and ignored the threat of transmission from European travelers.
The initial spread came from among the 3 million airline passengers who came to the region from Europe as the pandemic was unfolding, Cuomo said.
“So we had the highest numbers to deal with in the country. You look at where we are now: We did a full 180 degrees. We went from the highest cases, the highest viral transmission rate, to some of the lowest rates in the country,” Cuomo said. “No one else had to accomplish as much as we had to accomplish in such a short period of time. No one else had to bend the curve as much as we had to bend the curve.
“When people take a deep breath and the political rhetoric dies down, those are going be the facts.”
The governors said they were acting Wednesday to make sure that air travel, this time domestic, does not undo their regional success.
“Been there, done that,” Cuomo said.
In a separate briefing for Connecticut reporters, Lamont and the acting public health commissioner, Dr. Deidre Gifford, said the tri-state area will issue weekly lists of states covered by the new travel rules, which will be largely self-enforced.
“Right now, it’s going to be voluntary,” Lamont said. “Right now, you are going to be clearly notified that you must quarantine if you haven’t tested negative within, say, 72 hours. And you’re going to be notified of that in strict terms. And hotels will notify you of that before.”
If that does not work, the state will “consider some stricter measures for enforcement,” Lamont said.
Florida, Texas and Arizona were mentioned as likely states to be monitored initially, but they are among more than 30 states and U.S. territories to report a higher rolling average of new cases. And they are among seven with alarmingly high hospitalization rates.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb of Westport, the former Food and Drug Administration commissioner under Trump and an adviser to Lamont on Connecticut’s easing of COVID restrictions, said on CNBC that he expected hospitals in Arizona, California, Florida and Texas to consider limiting elective surgery to ease the coming strain on hospitals.
As hospitalizations soared in and around Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott urged a television audience Tuesday to shelter in place.
“The safest place for you is at your home,” said Abbott, a Republican.
In Connecticut, Lamont has tried to strike a balance between urging a return to work and play with 95% of the state’s economy now open and underscoring that the state’s low rate of positive tests is the consequence of continued social distancing and the wearing of face masks indoors and in crowds.
While Cuomo blamed travelers on the initial outbreak in the region, they arrived in a New York with scant testing and no guidance for social distancing or the use of masks. Today, testing is readily available and most Northeast states require masks to enter stores, and gatherings indoors, where the virus transmits most easily, remain limited.
“Certainly, things have changed,” Gifford said.
Wearing masks and requiring visitors to follow suit reduces risk, she said.
“But the fact of the matter is, sadly, in many of the states with the highest prevalence of infection right now, we know that some of the strict social guidance measures that Connecticut, New York and New Jersey have been working on for the past few months are not being followed.”
Gifford said the states will be chosen for heightened scrutiny based on two metrics: rate of new daily positive cases per 100,000 and a 10% positivity rate.
“The three states will be sharing the names of the states that meet that threshold, as of today,” Gifford said. “We’re looking at updating it weekly, so that travelers can plan and they know whether their state is on the list or not.”
The focus Wednesday was on air travel, but the state plans on highway signages and other outreach to underscore that anyone traveling to the region from a hot spot should self-quarantine for 14 days.
The Travelers Championship opens Thursday, with golfers competing at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell without spectators. But at least three players have withdrawn due to COVID, including Brooks Koepka, one of the marquee golfers on the PGA tour. His caddie tested positive Wednesday, two days after testing negative.
“I’m going to pull out to protect everybody else. I think it’s the right thing to do,” Koepka told Golfweek. “I don’t want to risk anyone’s life if they have respiratory issues or underlying conditions. The only way this Tour can continue is if guys to do this sort of thing and be proactive about it.”
Lamont said the testing is evidence of a system that is working.
“I think you should have some confidence that the Travelers is enforcing their version of the quarantine very strictly,” Lamont said. “They’re making sure everybody who is going to be at the tournament, players and non-players alike, have to be tested.”