Travelers on buses poured through Port Authority on Thursday morning without being asked where they’d been while others breezed through Penn Station despite Mayor Bill de Blasio claiming his army of tracers were ‘aggressively’ tracking who was entering the city from COVID-19 hotspot states and enforcing a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
At a press conference on Thursday morning, de Blasio said: ‘We do not want to fine people but if we have to we will this really matters that we get this quarantine right.
‘It will be random, it will be moving but I think it will get the message across. What we’re doing at the bus station, Penn Station, getting people to fill out those forms and then following up with them aggressively.’
But at Penn Station, Department of Health volunteers handed out the forms like flyers then let people walk out of the station without taking down their details. The travelers were asked if they’d come from out of state but no tickets were checked to ensure people were being honest and there was no one collecting completed forms before letting people leave the station.
At Port Authority, there were no volunteers to either hand out forms or collect them.
Baffled passengers approached a desk themselves to collect a form but then left the station without completing it or handing it back to anyone.
There was no one at the Holland Tunnel, which connects New Jersey and New York, either. On Wednesday night, sheriffs were seen stopping cars on the Goethals Bridge, which connects New Jersey and Staten Island, at random.
The police scanned plates at random then questioned the drivers before letting them go. It is unclear what questions they asked or if they took anyone’s details – deputies at the scene refused to answer questions or allow motorists to be interviewed about it.
The hotspot states are; Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin.
The form that is being used has up until now only been forced on people on planes. It does not ask for an address if the person’s final destination is not New York, and some travelers have anecdotally reported giving fake information once they get off flights from hot-spot cities like Miami once they arrive.
The tunnel and bridge checkpoints will be manned by members of the sheriff’s department, but it’s unclear what exactly they will ask when they stop a car, or if they will go beyond the questionnaire.
The questionnaire asks eight questions, including whether or not a person has been in one of the COVID-19 hotspot states recently.
It asks how the traveler is arriving in New York, giving a multiple choice answer, and for their flight details – including their seat number – if they’ve come by plane.
Crucially, when traveling by car, it asks if New York State is the traveler’s final destination.
If the traveler answers that it is not, they are not required to give an address. If they answer that it is, they are.
It’s unclear how that address will be checked when the person fills out the form and hands it back to law enforcement.
When completing it online, a person can enter false information to reach the end and be given a clearance that they do not need to quarantine.
It tells them to show that declaration to a compliance officer if asked.
Sheriff Joseph Fucito said the checks would be random, with every sixth or eight car being checked at tunnels and bridges.
Travelers at train stations, it seems, will not be contacted by police but will rather be stopped by members of the city’s tracing corps.
On Wednesday, a member of that group said: ‘Tomorrow, we’ll be deploying our teams to stop travelers to ensure they’ve completed the form.
‘If they haven’t we have to complete it with them right then and there.
‘If we can’t get through to you on the phone, we’ll deploy teams to knock on your door.’
But it’s unclear what proof of address is required – if any.
‘We’re not going to be in every apartment,’ de Blasio admitted on Wednesday.
He added that the checkpoints are designed to ‘send a powerful message’.
‘Even if we’re not able to reach every single person it’s going to get the message across,’ he said.
The reaction was largely negative, with many saying the checkpoints were a breach of civil liberties.
Others demanded that de Blasio focus more on the escalating crime in the city – that is arguably keeping many of its wealthiest residents at bay.
His checkpoint announcement came as the governor begged wealthy New Yorkers to return to the city to save its tax base.
At a press conference on interview on Tuesday, he said of the wealthiest residents who have long left the city: ‘They are in their Hamptons homes, or Hudson Valley or Connecticut.
‘I talk to them literally every day. I say. “When are you coming back? I’ll buy you a drink. I’ll cook.
‘They’re not coming back right now. And you know what else they’re thinking, if I stay there, they pay a lower income tax because they don’t pay the New York City surcharge.
‘So, that would be a bad place if we had to go there,’ he said.
It is not unusual for Manhattan to clear out for the month of August, when temperatures between the skyscrapers soar and send many fleeing to Long Island’s beaches or further afield.
But this summer, with the ongoing lack of appeal in the city, the likelihood that people will come back in the fall is shrinking.
What is making matters worse are the increasing calls from other lawmakers to boost taxes on the city’s highest earners to try to plug the $30billion deficit that was left by the pandemic.
Cuomo said he is resisting the idea, that will send the already transient group of taxpayers running for the hills.
After his announcement on Wednesday, de Blasio was with with a wave of criticism.