SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:
Two months ago, the Northeast was the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. Today marks a huge reversal. Officials in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut say they'll require travelers to self-quarantine for two weeks if they arrive from states where coronavirus infections are surging. That applies to nine states, including Arizona, Florida and Texas. NPR's Brian Mann joins us now from upstate New York.
BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hi, Sarah.
MCCAMMON: So what does this tell us about the situation nationally with the pandemic and how it's been changing?
MANN: Well, this is a pretty stunning shift. I mean, today in all of New York state, there were just 581 new coronavirus cases. That's half as many as in South Carolina, which has a much smaller population, obviously. North and South Carolina are both on this quarantine list. Arizona, Florida and Texas are all seeing thousands of new cases a day. That's really worrying public health officials.
Governor Andrew Cuomo says New York has been offering equipment and other aid to these other states that are now bearing the brunt of the pandemic. But governors in parts of the Northeast are clearly scared that the lack of strict social isolation policies in some of these other states could blow up and send a second wave of COVID-19 sort of coming back toward the northeast. Here's Governor Phil Murphy from New Jersey.
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PHIL MURPHY: We have taken our people, these three states, through hell and back, and the last thing we need to do right now is to subject our folks to another round. So doing something common sense as this is - to say to folks, if you've been in a state that has a high infection rate, do the right thing.
MANN: So for now, Sarah, travelers from nine states are going to be required to self-quarantine for two weeks. That's going to be tough for tourists and business travelers as the country continues to reopen. And I should say that other states could be added to this list if more than 10% of their coronavirus tests over a seven-day running period come back positive.
MCCAMMON: Even during the worst weeks of the pandemic in the spring, there were a lot of people moving in and out of New York from states like Arizona and Florida. With so many people moving around, how will the quarantine be enforced?
MANN: Yeah, this is definitely complicated. And Governor Andrew Cuomo was asked about this today at a briefing in New York City. He said he hopes most people will just do the right thing, but travelers could also face big fines.
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ANDREW CUOMO: Yeah, you can violate the quarantine until you get caught. And then when you get caught, you're in mandatory quarantine, and you're fined thousands of dollars. So you go to a business meeting, and somebody says, didn't you just come from Florida? Aren't you from Florida? Yes, I am. Now you have an issue.
MANN: So state officials here say initial fines could run as high as $2,000, then ramp up as high as $10,000. And Cuomo says police will actually be stopping motorists with out-of-state license plates. And they'll be able to use highway computer records to track when they arrived.
MCCAMMON: Taking it very seriously. Do we know why New Jersey, New York and Connecticut look so much better now than other parts of the country in terms of the spread of the coronavirus?
MANN: Well, they kind of just went first. You know, they were hit incredibly hard early on. They shut down their economies far more aggressively than most other states. The economic hit from that has been enormous. Just today, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced there could be as many as 22,000 teachers, sanitation workers and other public employees laid off in the weeks ahead. But it did stop the coronavirus cold. I mean, only around 1% of tests here in New York are coming back positive right now. That compares with Arizona, where the rate is 20 times higher.
MCCAMMON: And these states that are now finding themselves on the quarantine list, how are they responding?
MANN: Yeah. They're acknowledging that the tables have really turned on this story. But I should say, Sarah, that a lot of states around the country still do have similar quarantine rules in effect for travelers from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. So, you know, as the pandemic wears on, this kind of wariness toward travelers from other states, this may just become kind of the norm.
MCCAMMON: All right. NPR's Brian Mann.
MANN: Thank you, Sarah.
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