The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a travel advisory on Saturday night calling on residents of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut to avoid “non-essential domestic travel” for the next two weeks to help slow the spread of coronavirus.
The travel advisory is far less stringent than the “enforceable” tri-state quarantine that President Donald Trump had floated several times earlier on Saturday, an idea that caught New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) off guard and that caused confusion about the legality and logistics of such a maneuver.
Trump tweeted late on Saturday that he asked the CDC to issue the guidance after consulting with the three states’ governors, and decided “a quarantine will not be necessary.”
Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday that Trump settled on the advisory after “very intensive discussions” at the White House Saturday evening.
“After discussions with the president we made it clear and he agreed, it would be much better to do what’s called a strong advisory,” Fauci said. “The reason for that is you don’t want to get to the point that you’re enforcing things that would create a bigger difficulty, morale and otherwise, when you could probably accomplish the same goal.”
According to the CDC, the travel advisory does not apply to “employees of critical infrastructure industries, including but not limited to trucking, public health professionals, financial services, and food supply.” The agency says the governors of the three states have “full discretion” to implement the advisory.
Trump’s decision to go with a travel advisory after causing confusion — and anger — over his seemingly spontaneous suggestion of an “enforceable quarantine” underscores the extent to which his leadership during the coronavirus crisis has been defined by chaotic messaging and poor coordination with states.
The short-lived possibility of a three-state quarantine, briefly explained
President Trump said around noon on Saturday that he was considering an enforceable short-term quarantine in certain parts of the New York metro area after a conversation with Cuomo.
“I just spoke with Andrew Cuomo, I just spoke with [Florida Gov.] Ron DeSantis. We’re thinking about certain things. Some people would like to see New York quarantined because it’s a hot spot” of coronavirus cases, Trump told reporters on the White House lawn. “We might not have to do it, but there’s a possibility that some time today we’ll do a quarantine, short-term, two weeks on New York. Probably New Jersey, certain parts of Connecticut.”
But Cuomo, who was giving a press briefing at the same time Trump spoke to reporters, said he had not discussed that idea with the president and expressed concern about it. “I haven’t had those conversations,” Cuomo said when asked about Trump’s statement.
“I don’t even know what that means. I don’t know how that could be legally enforceable,” Cuomo said at his press conference in Albany. “And from a medical point of view, I don’t know what you would be accomplishing.”
”But I can tell you, I don’t even like the sound of it,” he continued.
The disconnect between Trump and Cuomo over a potential quarantine was the latest instance of public clashing between the two politicians while trying to coordinate a response in a region that has become the epicenter of the American coronavirus crisis. As Vox’s Aaron Rupar has explained, Trump has insinuated that governors need to stop criticizing him and to “treat [the administration] well” if they wish to receive federal help.
Complicating things further, it was difficult to know how seriously to take Trump’s quarantine statement, given his habit of making false claims about coronavirus-related policy launches in recent weeks, such as his haphazard rollout of the Defense Production Act, during which he and a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administrator revealed different timelines for directing the production of protective gear and life-saving medical devices.
However, Trump seemed to double down on the idea of a quarantine in the tri-state area later in the day after his first talk with reporters. After his initial comment he tweeted, “I am giving consideration to a QUARANTINE of developing ‘hot spots,’ New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. A decision will be made, one way or another, shortly.”
And when speaking to reporters another time Saturday afternoon before boarding Air Force One to Norfolk, Virginia, Trump signaled again that a decision would be imminent.
“We’re looking at it, and we’ll be making a decision,” Trump said. “A lot of the states that aren’t infected that don’t have a big problem, they’ve asked me if I’d look at it so we’re going to look at it. It’ll be for a short period of time if we do it at all.”
When asked for details about how he’d pursue a quarantine, he told reporters he would talk about it later with Cuomo.
New York is in crisis. Trump hasn’t responded with urgency.
Federal and state policymakers have been scrambling to figure out how to respond to the explosion of cases coming out of New York City.
Earlier in March, Cuomo used the National Guard to create a one-mile “containment zone” around New Rochelle, a suburb of New York City, to help slow a cluster of cases. On March 27, New York City accounted for over a quarter of all confirmed cases of coronavirus infection in the US.
Vox’s Jen Kirby and Emily Stewart report New York is expected to get worse: “Though the state, including the city, has been under strict stay-at-home orders since Sunday, New York is not expected to reach its peak in coronavirus cases for at least another three weeks. On March 25, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio predicted that, in a city of 8 million, half the population should expect to get coronavirus before the pandemic ends.”
But Trump has struggled to work productively with Cuomo on mounting a response to the crisis.
Earlier in the week, for example, Cuomo complained that FEMA’s decision to send New York 400 ventilators from a national stockpile was inadequate for the scope of the crisis. “You want a pat on the back for sending 400? We need 30,000,” said Cuomo on Tuesday. Trump fired back later that the governor “should have ordered the ventilators” when he had a chance, and has also downplayed the state’s need for them.
Trump’s quarantine idea — and that Cuomo was evidently in the dark about it — suggested he was contemplating pushing for what could be a hugely consequential policy change without consulting the relevant local policymakers.
“The specifics & impact of this new directive by tweet are unclear & uncertain,” tweeted Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal (CT) on Saturday. “The effect may be more confusion than confidence.”
Moreover, it was unclear if Trump was issuing a new policy or was simply floating an idea he hadn’t actually thought through and had no real intention of implementing. In recent weeks, Trump has made dozens of false claims, such as falsely promising that anyone who wants to get tested for coronavirus can get tested. Trump has also been touting hydroxychloroquine as a miracle drug for Covid-19, even though there has been no substantial evidence proving whether it’s effective, or even safe. Meanwhile, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis patients are experiencing a shortage of the drug as people heeding Trump’s message are stocking up.
Trump’s slapdash messaging surrounding a possible New York quarantine seemed par for the course in his ongoing response to the coronavirus crisis.