My New York State quarantine, and the new rules for travelers
New York recently changed the entry requirement rules to eliminate a full 14-day quarantine for some travelers. Unfortunately, you'll need to jump through lots of hoops to travel to the Empire State.
And you'll still need to quarantine for at least three full days before you can get a required second test.
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I thought it might be useful to explain what it was like to go through the quarantine when I did it last month. Keep reading for details on the new rules and enforcement measures.
Related: West Coast states now "requesting" 14-day quarantine
Flying into JFK
I had spent much of the early months of the pandemic at my father's ranch near Butte, Montana traveling around the West, and it was my first time heading back to my apartment in New York City. I was nervous about what the quarantine might entail, but I found it was pretty non-invasive overall.
Related: New rules for entry into New York
I flew from Butte, Montana (BTM) to Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) for my connection to New York-JFK. I arrived late on October 6, and the airport was nearly deserted. There were no personnel or airport workers checking passengers at the gate area and almost no one in the whole terminal at that late hour.
Quarantine procedures at JFK
In fact, I saw no sign of quarantine measures or procedures until I got to the baggage claim area. You'd need to be looking to find the information station, and if you were not picking up bags, I think you could miss it entirely. There was a small table set up with forms and a box to put them in, but no one was manning the table.
There were forms in English and in Spanish. There were also pens set up (which has been a problem for some travelers apparently). You were expected to fill out the forms at the table and put them in the cardboard box. I didn't see a single person from my flight fill out the forms, and again there was no one manning the table so you could easily just exit the terminal with no further checks.
Related: Are rapid COVID-19 tests the way to get people traveling again?
Registering for quarantine online
The good news is that arriving passengers are also able to notify the state of their quarantine online. That's what I ended up doing. Once I filled out the online form, I received the notification below and was asked to screenshot it for the state (no one ever asked to see it). It says that you are to show it to a compliance agent, but I assume that is if you've filled it out beforehand and are arriving in New York.
Follow-ups on the quarantine
The day after I registered, I got a text message from the state of New York saying "You recently traveled to NYC from a state with a high rate of COVID-19. State law REQUIRES that you quarantine for 14 days from the day you left that state."
I also got a long voicemail from the New York Health Department saying essentially the same thing. The only other follow-ups I got were two telephone calls. One came a few days after I'd registered with a health worker who sounded a little surprised I was so eager to hear from her. She asked if I was following protocols and if I felt well. That was pretty much all she asked. I volunteered a lot of additional information that she didn't seem interested in. I get the sense that these workers aren't often treated that well on the phone.
The day before the end of my quarantine on Oct. 19, I got a second call from a friendlier agent with similar questions and congratulations that I'd completed the quarantine. That was it. I haven't heard anything since that call.
Getting a COVID-19 test in New York City
The only time you are allowed to leave your home during quarantine is for medical reasons or to get tested for coronavirus. The day after my flight, I went to one of the CityMD clinics in Manhattan. CityMD is one of the few chains that are offering easy testing in the city. It took about an hour in line on 14th Street before I could reach the workers, but they did confirm I could get a COVID-19 PCR nasal swab test for free (I didn't have health insurance at the time). It was a fairly quick process with the doctor asking the states I'd been in, and if I was fulfilling the required quarantine. It only took about 15 minutes once I was inside the building. I got the results about 78 hours later via email that I was negative. I was happy to be able to tell the health workers who called me that I'd been tested and was negative.
Related: New York City reopening
New procedures for entry to New York
As of Nov. 4, 2020, there are new procedures to enter New York that can get most visitors out of a two-week quarantine. Unfortunately, there are still many hurdles. You can essentially "test out" of the mandatory 14-day quarantine. All arrivals must continue to fill out the Traveler Health Form.
Related: Do you need a negative coronavirus test to fly?
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said, ".. travel has become an issue - the rest of the states pose a threat. We're going to a new plan given the changing facts, and the experts suggest we shift to a testing policy. So there will be no quarantine list; there will be one rule that applies across the country. We bent the curve of this virus by following the data and the science, and we are continuing that approach with these new guidelines."
Related: Airlines brace for busy Thanksgiving
Anyone who spent more than 24 hours out of state will need to get a COVID-19 test taken within three days of departure. On arrival in New York, they may need to show those test results and fill out the traveler form. A mandatory quarantine of three days is still required. On Day Four of quarantine, the traveler has to get another COVID-19 test. If both tests are negative, quarantine is over.
Note that essential workers and residents of states contiguous with New York are exempt from the rules.
What about New Jersey and Connecticut?
Both New Jersey and Connecticut are still requiring most out-of-state visitors to quarantine for 14-days.
Related: Reopening America; a state-by-state guide
Sporadic but increasing enforcement
The quarantine procedures and enforcement have been erratic, to say the least in New York state. A friend, Jason Phillips, told me workers were checking every single passenger back in the summer.
Phillips was flying from Florida to New York's La Guardia back on July 7. He told TPG, “In my experience, Delta Air Lines passed out New York State health department forms to be filled out before landing. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a pen so I thought I was off the hook until I got to the exit headed towards baggage where they made everybody turn in or fill out a health form." Phillips continued, "They started calling the following day until they reached me." He said after he talked to a live health worker, he got a text from the state every day until the quarantine was over. Phillips said, "Personally it made me proud of the state of New York for looking out for us."
My experience was much laxer, but New York is again cracking down on enforcement of its policies and procedures.
Related: 3 largest NYC airports now offer testing
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo sent in National Guard troops to New York-area airports to begin better enforcement of the rules. Cuomo said, "You should not land if you do not have proof of a negative test upon landing. I want people to know we're serious."
According to the New York Daily News, the NYPD and the Port Authority are now also helping with enforcement.
In fact, another friend told me he was on a Delta flight from Orlando to New York-JFK on Nov. 11, and there were three Guardsmen handing out clipboards and verifying that each passenger had filled out the entry form. If you hadn't already done it online, then they were requiring you to fill out the paper form. Many passengers hadn't been tested prior to arrival and they would be subject to the 14-day quarantine.
My advice to any would-be visitors is to follow the letter of the law. Many folks have skipped the quarantine and took a chance they wouldn't be caught. Those ignoring the law are not only putting themselves and others at risk, but they could face a fine of up to $10,000. It's a $2,000 fine to refuse to fill out the travel form.