PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Rhode Island’s governor said Friday that law enforcement officers will stop cars and knock on doors in coastal communities to identify people who’ve been to New York state, joining other states in restricting the movements of out-of-state visitors to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Kentucky’s governor says he is considering closing the border between Kentucky and Tennessee, and checkpoints have been set up in the Florida Keys to restrict access.
“Right now, we have a pinpointed risk that we need to address, and we need to be very serious, and that risk is called New York City,” Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo said at a news conference Friday.
Starting Saturday, Rhode Island law enforcement officers and the National Guard will be “going door-to-door” in coastal communities, asking people if they’ve been to New York and requesting their contact information, she said.
Police began monitoring highways at noon Friday and may pull over individuals with New York state license plates to ask the same questions, particularly on the base of the Newport Bridge, Raimondo said.
Tara Koppie was driving to Rhode Island from Staten Island, New York, on Friday to pick up a puppy she recently adopted, CNN affiliate WPRI reported. She had to stop at a checkpoint on Interstate 95 operated by Rhode Island State Police and soldiers from the Rhode Island National Guard.
“I feel bad that New York is getting such a bad rap sheet when it’s really all over the place, you know, it shouldn’t be that way, but unfortunately right now we have a lot of cases,” Koppie told WPRI. She said she was planning to return home the same day.
All individuals who have traveled to New York have already been ordered to self-quarantine for 14 days. These added measures will make sure law enforcement identifies individuals who should be following the self-quarantine order, said the governor, a Democrat.
Individuals can self-quarantine at a hotel, a rental property, a summer home or anywhere else they may be able to stay, she said. The penalty for violating this order initially is a fine, and additional violations of the order could be punishable by a prison sentence, Raimondo said.
New York’s governor and the ACLU object
Hotels and rental companies will be provided with this order in writing and will be asked to provide the information to their renters, Raimondo said.
“I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think it were necessary,” she said. “If you want to seek refuge in Rhode Island, you must be quarantined … and we the people of Rhode Island plan to enforce that.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Saturday called Rhode Island’s policy “clearly unconstitutional,” and said his government was speaking to Rhode Island officials about it.
If Rhode Island doesn’t roll back the policy, “I’m going to sue Rhode Island,” Cuomo told CNN.
There’s potential points of absurdity that people can reach when it comes to trying to deal with the pandemic, he said, and “I think Rhode Island is at that point of absurdity.”
But, “we’ll work it out amicably, I’m sure,” Cuomo said.
ACLU of Rhode Island executive director Steven Brown issued a statement objecting to Raimondo’s action.
“While the Governor may have the power to suspend some state laws and regulations to address this medical emergency, she cannot suspend the Constitution. Under the Fourth Amendment, having a New York state license plate simply does not, and cannot, 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.”
New York is coronavirus epicenter in the US, with more than 52,300 cases and at least 728 deaths as of Saturday, according to CNN’s state-by-state count.
Rhode Island has more than 239 cases with two deaths as of Saturday.