With New York City in the grip of the novel coronavirus and looking more and more like a movie featuring Snake Plissken, many of the wealthier denizens of Gotham have been fleeing to vacation homes in nearby states with less viral activity. As John recently noted, this has been getting on the nerves of many of the locals who aren’t used to an influx of tourists over the winter months. But now, the state of Rhode Island is taking things to another level. The Governor has dispatched the police to “hunt down” any cars with New York license plates and they’re looking to enforce a quarantine on any New Yorkers fleeing to her state. (Bloomberg)
Rhode Island police began stopping cars with New York plates Friday. On Saturday, the National Guard will help them conduct house-to-house searches to find people who traveled from New York and demand 14 days of self-quarantine.
“Right now we have a pinpointed risk,” Governor Gina Raimondo said. “That risk is called New York City.”
New York is the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., on Friday reporting a total of 44,000 cases.
Rhode Island has just over 200, and it has begun an aggressive campaign to keep the virus out and New Yorkers contained, over objections from civil liberties advocates.
When I wrote yesterday about the emerging coronavirus police state, this is precisely the type of thing I had in mind. Governor Raimondo (who is already the fourth least popular governor in the nation) isn’t pulling her punches here. In a separate statement she declared she had consulted lawyers and said while she couldn’t close the border, she felt confident she could enforce a quarantine.
Let that sink in for a moment. She was serious enough about potentially closing the borders of her state that she took the question to her lawyers. Having apparently been informed that she’s not constitutionally empowered to take such an action, she fell back to the idea of simply locking all of the New Yorkers indoors and away from the public. Her public statement on that subject was put as bluntly as you would imagine.
“Yesterday I announced and today I reiterated: Anyone coming to Rhode Island in any way from New York must be quarantined. By order. Will be enforced. Enforceable by law.”
So Rhode Island law enforcement officers will forcibly quarantine any New Yorkers in the state. Precisely how they plan to do that isn’t specified. Her executive order applies to anyone who has been in New York in the past 14 days. She is further calling out the National Guard to be stationed at the T.F. Green airport, Amtrak train stations and at bus stops. The Guardsmen will also be “following up with people at local residences.”
The maximum penalty for noncompliance? A fine of $500 and 90 days in prison.
Keep in mind that many (though not all) of the people in question are not tourists looking for hotel rooms. Most of them own second homes in Rhode Island. They pay taxes there and for at least part of the year are residents. But since they also spend time in New York, armed members of the military will be knocking on their doors, following their vehicles and threatening to send them to prison if they dare come out in public.
Yesterday afternoon, state police were set up on the northbound lane of Interstate 95. A prominent sign instructed all passenger vehicles from New York to pull over at the adjacent rest area. Troopers were seen questioning the passengers of the vehicles. This is insanity.
I understand that the pandemic is a serious matter and public officials are struggling to keep people safe. But at the same time, being from New York or having a New York State license plate does not qualify as probable cause to pull anyone over, interrogate them or tell them to turn around and go home. Governor Raimondo needs to be reminded that every state in the nation is dealing with the same concerns she has and we are not under a state of martial law. She needs to be brought to heel before she decrees that all New Yorkers must have a large, scarlet letter C tattooed on their foreheads.