Gov. DeSantis threatens to quarantine air travelers fleeing COVID-19 restrictions in New York area

Delta airplane. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Update: The executive order also targets Connecticut and potentially additional states. Here’s the relevant section:

I hereby direct all persons whose point of departure originates from outside the State of Florida in an area with substantial community spread, to include the New York Tri-State Area (Connecticut, New Jersey and New York), and entering the State of Florida through airports to isolate or quarantine for a period of 14 days from the time of entry into the State of Florida or the duration of the person’s presence in the State of Florida, whichever is shorter.”

Florida will greet air travelers from COVID-19 hot spots in New York and New Jersey with law enforcement officers and public health officials who will whisk them into isolation for 14 days under an executive order Gov. Ron DeSantis promised to sign on Monday.

And they won’t be allowed to shelter with family members.

In his most aggressive push-back to complaints he’d been too lenient about enforcing social distancing to contain the new coronavirus behind the respiratory disease, the governor said he hoped to deter travel to Florida from a region with strict shelter-in-place orders.

“It is actually a criminal offense if you violate the quarantine orders. And so, people could end up being held accountable here in the state of Florida if they buck the law,” DeSantis said during a news conference in his office in the state Capitol.

“Anybody traveling from those regions in New York and New Jersey to the state of Florida is going to have to do a mandatory 14-day self-isolation. That’s the only way we can be sure that that virus is not going to be reintroduced in the state of Florida and then spread,” he said.

“You have so many people working so hard, and many people have sacrificed to try to protect our friends and neighbors, and I just think it would be unacceptable to continue to allow it just simply coming in for people who are fleeing a shelter-in-place order in those states,” he said.

“Hopefully, that will be a deterrent to people.”

The executive order had not been posted to the governor’s website as of this writing.

Statue of Liberty National Monument. Credit: National Park Service.

Earlier in March, DeSantis had discussed calling on the Trump Administration to restrict flights into Florida from coronavirus hot spots including New York.

DeSantis has been taking increasing heat from for not emulating aggressive containment strategies imposed in states including New York and California but has consistently defended his own mix of setting a statewide standard and letting local officials interpret enforcement.

He did so while sitting behind his desk during the news conference and also while opening a testing program in The Villages earlier in the day.

The quarantine would not apply to people driving to Florida —that would be impracticable, DeSantis said.

The welcoming committees will meet air travelers with thermometers and instructions to isolate themselves. “If they say that they are going to go stay with family, understand — that is not self-quarantining, because the No. 1 way this is transmitted is close contact, very frequently [with] family members,” the governor said.

Flights from the New York region tapered off early in the crisis. “But as soon as that shelter-in-place order came down from the New York governor — man, the flights took off. People just got the heck out of Dodge,” he said.

“We wish our friends in New York well. They’ve got a tough fight,” he said, praising Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his efforts. “But we also got to protect the folks here in the state of Florida.”

“Today, there are over 190 direct flights from the New York City area to the state of Florida. I would reckon, given the outbreak there, that every single flight has somebody on it who is positive for COVID-19,” the governor said.

“As we’re working to stop it in the state of Florida, you’re consistently having people come in from one of the top hot spots in the entire world. We don’t have people coming from Wuhan; we don’t have people coming from Milan. Yet you have a flood of people still coming from New York City.”

DeSantis said he is already planning how to ease off on the restrictions in place.

“A lot of people are concerned about when does this end. I think we’re in for a long fight, and I think we’re going to be girded for battle. We’re going to do all that we can and it’s not going to be easy,” he said.

“But I also know you cannot simply lock down our society indefinitely with no end in sight. When people say that we may do this for seven to nine months, I can tell you that is not sustainable. That is not something that this society will accept.”

He defended his approach as “just a realistic way to look at it. I think that will ultimately be probably the most way to be able to battle COVID-19.” Local officials are perfectly capable of enforcing protections geared to local circumstances, he said, noting that Brevard County limited beachgoers mostly to widely scattered small family groups.

“That is much different than doing a Jello shot off somebody’s stomach. We’re not tolerating that. And we told them that the party was over and I’m glad that they finally listened.”

Michael Moline
Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.