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Rhode Island governor Gina Raimondo has revised her controversial executive order targeting motorists with New York State license plates — but it’s no reprieve for New Yorkers fleeing the coronavirus.
On Friday, Raimondo issued an executive order instructing state authorities to stop drivers with New York plates and order them to self-quarantine for 14 days, and she said that state and local authorities would also identify where New York transplants had already relocated and go door-to-door informing them of the quarantine requirement. The policy was a dramatic new addition to the state’s efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Rhode Island, singling out New Yorkers fleeing the largest known U.S. outbreak of COVID-19.
On Saturday, local authorities in at least two coastal communities starting seeking out New York coronavirus refugees, according to the Providence Journal. In Westerly, teams made up of one local police officer and one national guard member canvased four neighborhoods full of rental homes looking for cars with New York plates — or cars with no plates, after the town’s police chief heard some New Yorkers planned to remove their license plates to avoid detection.
Raimondo’s order angered New York governor Andrew Cuomo, who threatened a lawsuit in response on Saturday morning. (The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island has also contested the order.) On Sunday, Cuomo announced that he had spoken with Raimondo and they had dealt with the issue. “I don’t think the order was called for, I don’t believe it was legal, I don’t believe it was neighborly,” Cuomo said at his daily coronavirus briefing. “I understand the point, but I thought there were different ways to do it, and the governor of Rhode Island was very receptive.”
That wasn’t the full story, however. Raimondo rescinded the order targeting New York residents — and issued a new one targeting anyone entering the state.
“[T]he rate of infection we’re seeing in New York City — unfortunately, we’re seeing that same rate of infection in other places — Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey, etc.,” Raimondo announced during her own daily coronavirus briefing on Sunday. “So, yesterday, to keep all Rhode Islanders safe, I signed an executive order imposing a quarantine on all visitors from any state, by any mode of transportation who are coming in Rhode Island for non-work purposes and plan to stay.”
Under the new policy, Rhode Island state troopers and national guard members will stop noncommercial drivers with out-of-state plates at checkpoints on I-95 and other state highways near the border. Anyone who indicates they plan to stay in Rhode Island will be told to self-quarantine and asked for the address where they plan to do so — so officials can check on them and confirm they are following the requirement. Drivers that don’t stop will be pulled over and directed to a checkpoint.
Governor Raimondo also made it clear she was annoyed with Cuomo’s attacks and how he appeared to be trying to take credit for the policy change. “I think it’s odd that Governor Cuomo is focused on this sort of politics at a time that we’re fighting disasters,” she said, explaining that she decided to change the policy before Cuomo had first mentioned the lawsuit during an appearance on CNN.
Through Sunday, Rhode Island has recorded 294 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including the state’s first three deaths over the weekend, but like many other states, those numbers are now on the rise. Fifty-five cases have been confirmed since Saturday, 35 people remain hospitalized with the illness, and Governor Raimondo has been stepping up the state’s efforts to halt the spread of the coronavirus. On Saturday, she banned gatherings of more than five people for any nonessential excursion, and said she would close the state’s beaches in a matter of days if the restrictions were not followed on them. She also closed all nonessential retail stores through at least April 13, and restricted restaurant business to takeout, drive-through, and delivery only. State officials are also looking to set up provisional hospitals and are trying to address PPE shortages within the state’s health system.