ALBANY - New York health officials are handing out questionnaires to passengers on flights coming into the state as it looks to enforce a sweeping 14-day quarantine on people traveling from states with high rates of coronavirus.
The move comes after New York, New Jersey and Connecticut last week agreed to require the quarantineon all visitors from eight states where COVID-19 cases spiked in recent weeks.
To bolster its accounting of who is coming to New York, the state Department of Health put together a form it is asking airlines to distribute to passengers upon boarding, or in some cases upon disembarkation.
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The completion of the questionnaires is voluntary, said health department spokeswoman Jill Montag.
"There are no penalties for passengers who don’t fill them out," she said.
"As we have just starting collecting data, response rates are not available. People we have identified from the questionnaires as requiring quarantine will be contacted by Health Department staff and/or contact tracers for follow-up."
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The goal, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said, is to require people coming from the eight states — Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Utah — to quarantine for 14-day to prevent the spread of the virus in the tri-state area.
The three states have hit record lows of coronavirus deaths and cases after being the first places where the virus struck in earnest in mid-March. New York has the most COVID-19 deaths in the nation, with nearly 25,000.
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Now the virus has reached record highs in about two dozen states.
"We are not a separate country in New York. Some people think we are, but we're really not. We're not an island," Cuomo said Monday.
"People from the other states travel to New York, and New York is a hub. If other states have a high infection rate, probability is they're going to wind up increasing the spread and the infection in New York. We learned that the hard way."
The tri-state area could add another eight states to the quarantine list as early as Tuesday because they all fit the criteria needed due to high rates of infection, a review by the USA TODAY Network New York found.
The states expected to be added are: California, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada and Tennessee.
If so, that would bring nearly 50% of the nation's population under a quarantine if they enter New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
How the states will enforce the quarantine remains uncertain.
But the questionnaires could lead health officials to follow up with those who say they traveled from the identified states and remind them to quarantine.
Cuomo said law enforcement, if they stop out-of-staters, could remind them of the quarantine, as can hotel staff.
The quarantine is essentially volunteer as part of the tri-state area's "travel advisory," but Cuomo said it could be made mandatory by the courts against someone who doesn't comply.
And if they do not comply, they could face heavy fines, starting at $2,000, Cuomo said.
"We've been to hell and back, right," Cuomo said Monday on NY1.
"We've made tremendous progress. We now have the lowest infection rate in the United States of America, believe it or not, and we want to make sure we don't go backwards."
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Joseph Spector is the New York state editor for the USA TODAY Network. He can be reached at JSPECTOR@Gannett.com or followed on Twitter: @GannettAlbany
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