Rhode Island state police backed up by the National Guard launched house-to-house searches Saturday to flush out New Yorkers who have traveled to the state seeking refuge from the coronavirus crisis. They’re being ordered to self-quarantine for two weeks.
Police on Friday also pulled over cars with New York license plates to give drivers the same orders. Cars traveling over the border encountered law enforcement authorities and signs ordering New York drivers to pull over to a checkpoint for questioning.
National Guard members have also been posted at Rhode Island’s airport, train stations and bus stops to grill travelers. The penalty for not complying with the state’s quarantine order is a fine of up to $500 and 90 days in prison.
“That’s a law — that’s an order,” Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo said Friday of the new quarantine requirements, which she conceded Saturday were “fairly extreme.”
“It comes with penalties. It’s not a suggestion,” she added.
By Saturday afternoon, Raimondo had already extended the required quarantine to “any person coming to Rhode Island ... after visiting any other state for a non-work-related purpose.” But the key fear is people bringing coronavirus from New York, the nation’s current coronavirus epicenter.
“Right now, we have a pinpointed risk ... and that risk is called New York City,” Raimondo said at a news briefing Friday.
New York reported more than 52,000 cases of COVID-19 as of Saturday, while Rhode Island had just 239 cases. The governor on Saturday announced two deaths in Rhode Island — and instituted a stay-at-home order for state residents.
The governor’s executive order Thursday required a quarantine for New Yorkers entering Rhode Island in the previous two weeks. It doesn’t apply to public health, public safety or health care workers. The restrictions will apply at least through April 25. The quarantine has now been expanded to travelers from other states, and landlords have been instructed to include a requirement in leases that out-of-towners self-quarantine.
The American Civil Liberties Union blasted the governor’s crackdown as unconstitutional, even before she expanded the quarantine to anyone entering from any state, calling it a “blunderbuss approach that cannot be justified in light of its substantial impact on civil liberties.”
“While the governor may have the power to suspend some state laws and regulations to address this medical emergency, she cannot suspend the Constitution,” Steven Brown, Rhode Island ACLU executive director, said in a statement. “Under the Fourth Amendment, having a New York state license plate simply does not ... constitute ‘probable cause’ to allow police to stop a car and interrogate the driver — no matter how laudable the goal of the stop may be.”
Several Rhode Island residents responding to Raimondo on Twitter applauded her crackdown.