WASHINGTON —President Donald Trump backed away from earlier comments Saturday that he was considering enforcing a quarantine in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut area after state officials questioned whether Trump had the authority to implement a quarantine and accused him of creating confusion.
Instead, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel advisory asking residents to refrain from non-essential travel for 14 days, effective immediately. The advisory does not apply to people who work for "critical infrastructure industries, including but not limited to trucking, public health professionals, financial services, and food supply, the CDC said in a statement.
"A quarantine will not be necessary," Trump tweeted Saturday night. "Full details will be released by CDC tonight."
Earlier Saturday Trump sparked confusion when he told reporters as he was leaving the White House for Norfolk, Va., that he was considering an “enforceable quarantine” in the tri-state area because he was concerned New Yorkers were traveling to places like Florida and spreading the virus.
Trump had been on the phone just minutes before with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but did not bring up the possibility of the federally mandated quarantine, according to Cuomo.
“I didn’t speak to him about any quarantine,” Cuomo said during a press conference. “I don’t even know what that means.” “I don’t know how that could be legally enforceable. I don't even like the sound of it.”
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Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said in a statement that he had been in "close communication" with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and Cuomo.
"I look forward to speaking to the President directly about his comments and any further enforcement actions, because confusion leads to panic," Lamont.
When asked by reporters at the White House to clarify Trump's proposal, Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who was recently named chief of staff, said "we're evaluating all the options right now."
Governors and mayors, not the federal government, have the broadest quarantine and isolation authority, as the constitution leaves that kind of police power in the hands of the states.
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has the authority to detain people suspected of having an infectious disease without getting approval from state and local officials, that authority is rarely used and experts on public health law say that any attempt to leverage that power to create a federally mandated quarantine would likely be challenged in court.
While at the USNS Comfort, Trump said that any restrictions would not impact truck drivers entering or traveling through quarantined areas and that it would not impact trade.
Trump suggested that the purpose of the federally mandated quarantine would be to limit people from the New York area spreading the virus to other parts of the country, but some states have already put into place restrictions on out of state visitors from places that are considered hotspots.
In New York alone, Cuomo said there are more than 52,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with over 725 deaths.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is requiring people visiting from parts of Louisiana, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to self-isolate for 14 days. Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo also ordered that anyone who has moved from New York state to Rhode Island in the past two weeks must self-quarantine for 14 days. Massachusetts and Texas have instituted similar restrictions and some counties in North Carolina are considering putting up roadblocks to keep out visitors, unless they prove they have a home or job inside the county.
“Restrict travel because they are having problems down in Florida. A lot of New Yorkers going down, we don’t want that," Trump told reporters on Saturday.
"I’d rather not do it, but we may need it,” Trump said.