Rhode Island’s National Guard and state police have an unusual job this weekend: hunting down New Yorkers. Authorities are on the look out for cars with New York license plates and they’re also going door-to-door in coastal towns to find anyone who recently arrived from New York. Anyone who recently traveled from New York to Rhode Island must undergo a 14-day quarantine or else risk a $500 fine and 90 days in prison. “I know this is unusual. I know this is extreme. And I know some people don’t agree with it,” Gov. Gina Raimondo said. “It’s absolutely not a decision I make lightly.”
New York has become the center of the coronavirus epidemic in the United States with more than 52,000 cases and 728 deaths as of Saturday. Rhode Island has 203 confirmed cases and two deaths. As the two deaths were announced Saturday, Raimondo expanded restrictions, calling on everyone in Rhode Island to stay at home. She also said anyone entering Rhode Island from out of state must self-quarantine for 14 days. There is an exception for those who travel for work but any Rhode Islander who leaves the state for work must self-quarantine when they return.
Those who arrived from out of state can quarantine anywhere they are staying, regardless of whether it’s a hotel or a rental home or a home they own. Hotels and rental companies have been told to inform their guests of the order. But chances are someone likely got to them before considering that in addition to stopping cars with New York plates, National Guard troops are being posted at train stations and bus depots.
Raimondo said the harsh measures were necessary because the small state isn’t prepared to deal with a large increase in COVID-19 cases. “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.”
The move faced objections, including from the ACLU of Rhode Island. “While the Governor may have the power to suspend some state laws and regulations to address this medical emergency, she cannot suspend the Constitution,” ACLU of Rhode Island executive director Steven Brown 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.”
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