ALBANY, N.Y. – Health officials hand out questionnaires to passengers on flights coming into the state, which enforces a 14-day quarantine on people traveling from states with high rates of coronavirus.
New York, New Jersey and Connecticut agreed last week to require the quarantine on visitors from eight states where COVID-19 cases spiked in recent weeks.
To bolster its accounting of who comes to New York, the state Department of Health put together a form it asked airlines to distribute to passengers upon boarding, or in some cases upon disembarkation.
The completion of the questionnaires is voluntary, Health Department spokeswoman Jill Montag said.
"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."
The goal, Gov. Andrew Cuomo 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 days 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 – more than 31,000.
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 of high rates of infection, a review by the USA TODAY Network – New York found.
The states likely to be added are: California, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada and Tennessee.
That would bring nearly 50% of the nation's population under a quarantine if they entered New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
How the states will enforce the quarantine remains uncertain.
The questionnaires could lead health officials to follow up with those who 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 could 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.
Those who do not comply 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."
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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This article originally appeared on New York State Team: Airline passengers to New York get COVID-19 questionnaire