New York City is setting up checkpoints at bridges, tunnels and train stations to crack down on visitors from 34 states attempting to elude a statewide mandatory two-week Covid-19 quarantine, Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced.

De Blasio warned visitors that the city would be tightening its surveillance of new arrivals at “key entry points” during a press conference on Wednesday. Visitors “will be reminded that [quarantine] is required, not optional,” he told reporters, adding that failure to self-isolate can net violators a $10,000 fine. 

Mayor de Blasio says, “starting today,” NYC will put COVID checkpoints at key entry points to the city to enforce quarantines for out-of-state visitors.

While admitting that “we’re not going to be in every apartment,” de Blasio insisted the checkpoints were “going to send a very powerful message that this quarantine law is important.”

The mayor declined to offer much information about the checkpoints, other than that their location will vary daily and require visitors to fill out travel health forms providing contact-tracing information to city authorities. Beginning on Thursday, the mayor’s Public Engagement Unit – civilians, not police – will be intercepting travelers at Penn Station, the primary entry point to the city for train travelers, and presenting them with the forms.

Highway stops, however, will be conducted by police. City Sheriff Joseph Fucito explained that “most” traffic stops would be done randomly at a rate of one every six to eight cars. Out of state plates will supposedly not be targeted, since New Yorkers returning from other states are also required to submit to the two-week isolation period. Just 20 officers will be enforcing the checkpoints at any given time, according to the sheriff, meaning the odds of slipping in via one of the city’s many bridges, tunnels, and highways unimpeded remain high.

While people flying into New York from states designated as high-risk have for weeks been required to fill out questionnaires on the plane informing authorities of their contact information and where they will be quarantining, those arriving by train, bus, and car were largely able to dodge this requirement. City workers are supposed to follow up by calling the quarantined visitors during their stay.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo initially announced the 14-day mandatory quarantine period for visitors arriving from eight states in June. The list of states has since ballooned, even as the coronavirus death rate has plummeted in New York. The latest state to join the no-no list is Rhode Island, whose governor, Gina Raimondo, was ironically threatened with a lawsuit for attempting to force New Yorkers arriving in her state to quarantine back in April.

Last month, Cuomo warned would-be quarantine dodgers that it was “illegal” to leave the airport without filling out one of the forms, adding that police were standing by to apprehend violators. Merely failing to fill out the form is punishable with a $2,000 fine.

The quarantine requires new arrivals who don’t qualify as essential workers to remain in their hotel room or residence unless attending “essential medical appointments or treatment” or acquiring food and necessities that can’t be delivered. It also prohibits inviting guests over.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the city – which depends on tourism for a large chunk of its income – has seen a 90 percent decline in visitors during the last quarter of fiscal year 2020 and is projecting an even worse 2021, with Broadway shows closing their doors through the new year and events like Fashion Week and the US Open going virtual. 

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