DeSantis expands NYC-area travel order: passengers from 3 weeks ago must isolate and identify all contacts

A cyclist passes a "Health Advisory" sign on March 18, 2020, in Miami Beach, Florida. Gov. Ron DeSantis, expressing fear that Florida's mitigation program for COVID-19 might be undermined, has expanded a crackdown on people flying from the New York area to Florida. Credit: Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images

Gov. Ron DeSantis is expanding his directive against air travelers from the New York City area to include mandatory self-isolation for people who arrived within the past three weeks. They’ll also have to identify the people they’d been in contact with since their arrival.

The governor did not explain how the process would work, and an executive order was not available on his office’s website as of early evening Tuesday.

It’s not clear how the state would locate these individuals from three weeks ago and compel them to divulge their contacts.

DeSantis also announced a crack-down on people trying to get around the closure of restaurants and bars by throwing large house parties. And he urged older Floridians — 65 and older — to shelter within their homes to avoid contact with people afflicted with COVID-19.

The governor had this to say President Trump’s talk about encouraging businesses to reopen by Easter. “We’re going to really work with the president and see what his team puts together.”

DeSantis issued an executive order Monday requiring quarantine for passengers arriving in Florida airports from the New York City region, including New Jersey and Connecticut.

During a follow-up press briefing Tuesday in his office in the Florida Capitol, the governor said he would expand that screening.

“Anybody traveling from the New York City area to the state of Florida, or who has traveled in the last three weeks, is going to self-isolate, and they’re going to need to report the contacts that they’ve had — any close contact with anybody in the state of Florida. Mainly, notifying the people that they’ve been in contact with,” DeSantis said.

“You may have had someone who got back 10 days ago. Maybe they’ve not even showing symptoms, but they may be infected. And if they’re working with folks in Florida or interacting with them in Florida, that is a way that this virus could spread.”

The governor said people fleeing the New York-area “hot spot” risk undoing the sacrifices Floridians have made in the interests of containing the COVID-19 pandemic.

New York Andrew Cuomo issued a stay-home order for state residents effective at 8 p.m. Sunday, but the disease likely was circulating there for three weeks at that point, DeSantis said.

It’s not fair that the virus may be “seeded” in Florida “as people flee kind of the hot zone,” DeSantis said.

Additionally, the governor announced that Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees will issue formal guidance that people aged 65 or older should stay at home for the next 14 days “to minimize their exposure.” Older people appear most susceptible to fatal complications from COVID-19.

The advice also applies to people with serious medical conditions including asthma or heart disease or with suppressed immune systems.

“You should assume that anybody you may come in contact with may be infected, and so make sure you keep that safe, appropriate 6-foot distance or more. Obviously, the easiest way to do that is simply stay at home as much as possible.”

DeSantis pointed to advice from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, to limit gatherings to 10 people. He has closed bars, restaurants, and other businesses where people gather, and some local governments have gone much further.

“We didn’t necessarily do that for places like town squares or private residences. So I’m going to expand that guidance,” he said.

“Consistent with what the CDC says, you shouldn’t have any social group of 10 people or more. Just because it’s a private residence, you should not right now be having 50 people for a party.”

Regarding his New York executive order, the governor painted a picture of people swarming out of viral hot spots like that city once stay-home orders took effect.

“They went from doing 20 flights to Florida to doing 120, then 160, and then yesterday they did 197 flights,” he said. “This was an immediate response to the shelter-in-place order.” South Florida is mostly affected, but the rule likely will be expanded to smaller airports around the state, he said.

Regarding Trump’s apparent determination to lift restrictions on business activity, DeSantis said this:

“It seems like, you know, you have some people who say, ‘This virus is much ado about nothing. Don’t even do anything.’ I was never in that camp, because I said back in January it was a serious public health threat.

“And then you have some other people saying, ‘We can’t do anything. We’ve just got to lock down maybe nine months or whatever. I think both of those are false choices,” he said.

“Clearly, we’ve got to do something about the virus. And there’s no way a nine-month shutdown would possibly be sustainable. I think the question’s going to be: Let’s work to blunt the force of the virus. Let’s protect those folks who could be most in jeopardy of really negative health impacts. But let’s also get society functioning so that the overall public health could be better,” he continued.

Unemployment claims in Florida hit 21,000 on Monday, DeSantis said.

“Man,” he said. “That’s not only going to have an economic cost. That will have a health cost unless we work hard to remedy that as soon as possible.”

He added: “I really worry about suicide, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, domestic abuse, child abuse if this is allowed to go for months on end. I think you could do this in a way that is really going to allow us to make progress on the virus but will also allow the society to function again.”

People who never worry about influenza (which the CDC has estimated would kill as many as 59,000 this year) are now observing hygiene protocols designed to limit viral spread, he said. He suggested they will retain that lesson.

DeSantis has resisted calls to order a state-wide stay-at-home order in Florida and defended that decision again Tuesday, referring to his approach as “surgical.” He noted the CDC hasn’t called for these measures.

“These blunt measures, you wouldn’t want to do them on a community where the virus hasn’t spread through the community. I think everybody understands there’s a lot of negative impacts from those blunt measures. People are going to go out of business. People are going to lose their jobs. There’s going to be upheaval in their lives. And that’s something we should not do flippantly,” he said.

“Some people think that the governor should just be a dictator and just order everyone imprisoned in their homes. I don’t think that would be an effective approach, but it’s certainly not warranted in some areas of the state.”

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.