Rhode Island police, troops stopping incoming New Yorkers to force quarantine

“I know this is unusual. I know this is extreme. And I know some people don’t agree with it,” Rhode Island's governor said.
Image: Gina Raimondo
Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo gives and update on the coronavirus during a press conference in the State Room of the Rhode Island State House on March 22, 2020, in Providence, R.I.Kris Craig / Providence Journal via AP Pool

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By Phil McCausland

Rhode Island's National Guard and state police are stopping motorists with New York license plates and going door-to-door to find people who may have traveled recently from the state.

The enforcement actions come after Gov. Gina Raimondo ordered that anyone who has moved from New York state to Rhode Island in the past two weeks must self-quarantine for 14 days, part of her state's effort to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Troops from the National Guard have been posted at train stations and bus depots to inform New Yorkers of the order, and on Saturday they began going door-to-door to tell any recent travelers from New York that they must follow the quarantine to stop the spread of the coronavirus. State police began stopping cars with New York plates on Friday.

“I know this is unusual. I know this is extreme. And I know some people don’t agree with it,” Raimondo said. “It’s absolutely not a decision I make lightly.”

Those who do not comply with the order face a fine of $500 and 90 days in prison.

New York has become the epicenter for the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, and many state residents own second homes in Rhode Island communities, such as Newport.

The governor said that the country's smallest state is not prepared for a sudden uptick in COVID-19 cases, certainly not to the degree of what's been seen in New York and New Orleans.

“We are not set up for that,” she said.

Her order to stop New Yorkers drew a complaint from the state's chapter of the state's American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) chapter.

“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, head of the ACLU in Rhode Island, said in a statement. “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.”

Raimondo said that she understood the ACLU's argument, but said that directive follows federal guidance and will be enforced respectfully. The White House had previously called for all people who leave New York to self-quarantine for 14 days.

“This is the law. This is not a suggestion. It’s going to save lives,” Raimondo said.