New York Gov. Cuomo says Trump has no authority to impose quarantine: ‘It could be unlawful’


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Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, speaks during a news conference at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York, U.S., on Friday, March 27, 2020.

Angus Mordant | Bloomberg | Getty Images

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Saturday he does not believe President Donald Trump has the authority to impose a quarantine on New York, New Jersey and parts of Connecticut to stop the spread of the coronavirus. 

Cuomo, in an interview with CNN, said that preventing people from moving in and out of the tri-state would amount to a federally imposed lockdown, which he believes is illegal. 

“A lockdown is what they did in Wuhan, China,” Cuomo said. “We’re not in China, and we’re not in Wuhan. I don’t believe it would be legal. I believe it would be illegal.”

Cuomo said he does not believe that Trump intends to impose a sweeping quarantine of the region but suggested he could sue if the administration did follow through.

“I’ve sued the federal government a number of times over the years. I do not believe it’s going to come to that on this,” Cuomo said. “This would be a declaration of war on states, a federal declaration of war.”

Trump, speaking to reporters at the White House Saturday, said he was considering a two-week quarantine of New York and possibly New Jersey as well as parts of Connecticut. The president said a decision could come Saturday

“I’m thinking about that right now. We might not have to do it, but there’s a possibility that sometime today we’ll do a quarantine,” Trump told reporters at the White House Saturday. “Short-term, two-week on New York, probably New Jersey and certain parts of Connecticut.” 

The governors in the tri-state region, however, said they were in the dark about Trump’s possible quarantine. Cuomo said that while he spoke with the president Saturday morning, a quarantine didn’t come up during their discussions.  New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy told reporters on Saturday that Trump did not bring up a possible quarantine when they spoke on Friday.

“Nothing like quarantine came up,” Murphy said. “I literally saw the story as I was walking into this room. I’ve got no more color on it.”

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont has said the tri-state governors are already implementing certain quarantine measures. Lamont said he wants to speak “to the president directly about his comments and any further enforcement actions, because confusion leads to panic.”

When NBC News asked White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows what legal authority the administration has to order a quarantine, Meadows replied, “We’re evaluating all the options right now.”

Cuomo went on to say that a quarantine imposed by the federal government on the region would cause an economic shock and could provoke a ripple effect across the country, giving states the green light to close their borders. 

“New York is the financial sector. You geographically restrict a state, you would paralyze the financial sector,” Cuomo said. “You think the stock market has gone down — it would drop like a stone.”

Talk of a possible quarantine comes as New York and the surrounding states have borne the brunt of the infected cases in the U.S. More than 121,000 people have been diagnosed with coronavirus in the United States, and at least 2,000 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have become the center of the outbreak in the U.S. New York has more than 52,000 cases and at least 728 deaths; New Jersey has reported more than 11,000 cases and 140 deaths; and Connecticut has confirmed 1,291 cases and 27 deaths.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, federal law gives the Secretary of Health and Human Services the authority to take measures to prevent the entry and spread of infectious diseases from foreign countries and between states. 

This authority is delegated to the CDC, which can detain and medically examine people arriving in the United States and traveling between states that are carrying infectious diseases. These measures, however, focus primarily on individuals. 

According to the CDC, the federal government last implemented large-scale isolation and quarantine during the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919, one of the deadliest pandemics in history. 


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