New York has collected 6k air-travel surveys but many ignoring request for info

ALBANY — The state Department of Health on Thursday said government workers had collected more than 6,600 questionnaires from travelers who have landed at New York airports since Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo imposed a 14-day quarantine last week for people coming here from states with high rates of coronavirus infections.

But the effort to monitor the travelers and mandate compliance has not been seamless, with thousands of travelers declining to fill out the forms and at least one airline — JetBlue — declining so far to distribute them to their passengers aboard inbound New York flights, according to state workers who have taken part in the work.

“JetBlue is conducting a safety review and training before they begin distributing,” Jill Montag, a spokeswoman for the state Health Department, said Thursday.

The state does not have authority to compel airlines — which are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration — to distribute the forms.

The state had initially been paying overtime to investigators with the Health Department’s Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement to join other employees stationed at airport deplaning exits to gather the forms — and people who did that work said most travelers would brush past the makeshift informational checkpoints without stopping. The BNE investigators have since been reassigned to other duties.

Montag said Health Department “educational staff members” were stationed this week at passenger exit areas in six New York airports: JFK, LaGuardia, Stewart, Albany, Syracuse and Buffalo. A person who took part in the work said on one flight from Florida more than 130 people disembarked but less than 30 filled out the forms. Health officials have acknowledged passengers are not required to fill out the forms and there is no penalty for declining.

“Airlines are instructed to distribute forms to passengers when boarding flights, and DOH staff are located in destination airports for the purpose of educating passengers and collecting those forms, not asking questions,” she said.

The two-page forms carry the header “New York State Traveler Health Form” and ask participants to list their personal information, including name, phone numbers, email and residential addresses and destination. It asks travelers to list states they have visited and the dates, as well as to disclose any information about COVID-19 symptoms. The form ends with a warning above the signature line stating the person submitting the form is providing truthful information “under penalty of law.”

“Upon entering New York, if you are a traveler and do not have a suitable dwelling for your 14-day quarantine period, you must find appropriate accommodations at your own cost,” the form states. “If you are a NYS resident returning from travel and do not have appropriate accommodations for quarantine, please call your local health department.”

The forms are being distributed the same week that Cuomo ordered the state Liquor Authority, with assistance from state troopers and Health Department workers, to begin spot-checking restaurants and bars in the New York City area for compliance with social distancing rules. Cuomo had declined to allow New York City restaurants to open for indoor dining on Wednesday, citing “compliance” issues in the metropolitan area.

Officials with the governor’s office and state Liquor Authority did not not respond to questions Thursday about the number of premises that have been inspected or how many state workers — and from which agencies — are participating in that effort. The State Police also did not respond to a request for comment.

At least one restaurant/bar on Long Island had its liquor license suspended this week when authorities found its outdoor patio area overcrowded with patrons despite repeated warnings from state and local code enforcement authorities.

Many other governors have imposed similar mandatory quarantines for people visiting or returning to their states, but New York’s order imposes hefty civil penalties — up to $10,000 — for anyone who violates the requirement. Other states have made the orders “advisory.”

In order for someone to face penalty in New York, Public Health Law requires that they first be notified by a local health department official that they are subject to quarantine and being ordered to isolate themselves or their family.

Cuomo announced the guidelines a week ago during a news conference with Govs. Phil Murphy of New Jersey and Ned Lamont of Connecticut, who also enacted similar advisories.

There is no timetable for how long New York’s quarantine requirement will remain in effect and Cuomo imposed it at a time when tens of thousands of people are beginning to embark on summer vacations, including to locations that include the Carolinas and Florida, which are the list of states flagged as high-risk.

States are included in the advisory if 10 per 100,000 residents or 10 percent of the total population tests positive on a seven-day rolling average.

The state Health Department provided some guidance on its website last week that laid out rules for someone returning to New York, including mandating that they remain in “separate quarters with a separate bathroom facility for each individual or family group.”

If it is a single family member who is quarantined, though, then the person must remain isolated from other members of the household and have food delivered to them.

Someone who passes through a high-risk state, and may visit a few rest areas along the way or have a layover at an airport, they are not required to self-quarantine upon entering New York.

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