New York Has a 14-Day Quarantine. Many New Yorkers Are Ignoring It.

By Alyson Krueger

Travelers returning from states with high infection rates say they are following the rules, but their social media posts say otherwise.

Sasha Pagan, a nurse at a Manhattan hospital, is concerned about patients who have traveled and are not honoring quarantine rules.
Sasha Pagan, a nurse at a Manhattan hospital, is concerned about patients who have traveled and are not honoring quarantine rules.Credit...Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

Earlier this summer, Sasha Pagan burst into tears during her nursing shift at a hospital on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

It had been a normal day in the pediatric unit, apart from the masks and the Covid-19 protocols, when a patient arrived for some testing. She was screened at the front door, answering “no” when asked whether she had traveled outside of New York state within the past two weeks, currently a prerequisite for nonemergency medical treatment. But at the end of the appointment, the patient admitted to having been in Florida six days earlier.

Ms. Pagan, who works with adolescents and young adults, was furious. “The patient lied and exposed staff,” she said. “Me, registrars, techs, everyone.”

The pandemic has been brutal for Ms. Pagan, who was sick with Covid-19 herself and lost her uncle to it earlier this year. “This patient was very triggering for me,” she said. “These people are coming in for routine lab work. It wasn’t anything urgent, and that is why I got really upset. It was something that could have waited.”

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has mandated that travelers entering New York from other states where positive test results of the coronavirus exceed 10 percent must be quarantined for 14 days. Over 30 states are currently on the quarantine list, along with Puerto Rico. New York state officials are in charge of monitoring the airports. And earlier this month, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced checkpoints at bridges and tunnels throughout the city in an effort to inform travelers about the rules. However, many Americans, antsy to travel again, seem to be making up their own.

“Safely separating upon your arrival home is your civic duty to yourself, your neighbors and your loved ones,” said Avery Cohen, deputy press secretary for the mayor, adding that city officials are knocking on doors, in addition to calling and texting New Yorkers about the new virus guidelines. Mr. de Blasio, speaking earlier this month of the checkpoints, said, “We’re not going to let our hard work slip away.”

Where the government may struggle to track travelers, however, social media is capturing their exploits. Many of those thwarting mandatory quarantines are posting about their trips and outings around the city on Facebook and Instagram, which is frustrating and alarming New Yorkers.

Olivia Awe, a figure skating coach and pastry chef, noticed on social media that an acquaintance from college would be returning to New York City after temporarily living with her parents in Florida. The acquaintance had stopped in Virginia, another high-risk state, on her way back, to attend a wedding that didn’t require masks. Ms. Awe spotted Snapchat and Instagram stories detailing the event, she said.

Then the woman was back in New York. “I saw a post on her social media about how she was given the paper stating she needed to quarantine,” said Ms. Awe, 22, who soon thereafter noticed even more posts chronicling the acquaintances’s adventures around the city. The college friend was now bar hopping, eating out at restaurants, and hosting a group of people at her apartment.

Ms. Awe and another friend tried to report the errant young woman, but they could only figure out how to turn in a business, not an individual. “If told how to go about reporting this person I would without hesitation,” she said. “This person is putting so many people at risk and putting our state at risk.”

And it’s not just young people bending quarantine rules. Earlier this summer, a private Facebook chat group of parents whose children attend a well-known art and design school in the city addressed how to move their college-age children to New York City, without committing to the full quarantine first, according to a member of the group, who spoke under condition of anonymity.

Parents in the chat group applauded one post that stated the city couldn’t enforce the quarantine, she said, which left her so spooked that she persuaded her daughter to defer her freshman year.

ImageLogan and Lindsay Davis moved to New York City in July. The couple quarantined for their first two weeks here. “It really wasn’t that bad,” Mr. Davis said. “Everybody should do it.”
Logan and Lindsay Davis moved to New York City in July. The couple quarantined for their first two weeks here. “It really wasn’t that bad,” Mr. Davis said. “Everybody should do it.”Credit...Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

New Yorkers who have been strict since March are also noticing some of their friends and neighbors skirt quarantine rules, which makes them second-guess their own standards.

For the first time since the pandemic started, Miri Castor, a graduate science student in Brooklyn, only recently started feeling comfortable taking short walks around her neighborhood. “I have been staying in,” she said. “I have a backyard, where I can go to get a bunch of sunshine.” Even now that her lab is open, she goes there as little as possible, and then heads straight home.

Updated August 12, 2020

    • Many states have travel restrictions, and lots of them are taking active measures to enforce those restrictions, like issuing fines or asking visitors to quarantine for 14 days. Here’s an ever-updating list of statewide restrictions. In general, travel does increase your chance of getting and spreading the virus, as you are bound to encounter more people than if you remained at your house in your own “pod.” “Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from Covid-19,” the C.D.C. says. If you do travel, though, take precautions. If you can, drive. If you have to fly, be careful about picking your airline. But know that airlines are taking real steps to keep planes clean and limit your risk.
    • As of right now, that seems likely, for at least several months. There have been frightening accounts of people suffering what seems to be a second bout of Covid-19. But experts say these patients may have a drawn-out course of infection, with the virus taking a slow toll weeks to months after initial exposure. People infected with the coronavirus typically produce immune molecules called antibodies, which are protective proteins made in response to an infection. These antibodies may last in the body only two to three months, which may seem worrisome, but that’s perfectly normal after an acute infection subsides, said Dr. Michael Mina, an immunologist at Harvard University. It may be possible to get the coronavirus again, but it’s highly unlikely that it would be possible in a short window of time from initial infection or make people sicker the second time.
    • The stimulus bills enacted in March offer help for the millions of American small businesses. Those eligible for aid are businesses and nonprofit organizations with fewer than 500 workers, including sole proprietorships, independent contractors and freelancers. Some larger companies in some industries are also eligible. The help being offered, which is being managed by the Small Business Administration, includes the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. But lots of folks have not yet seen payouts. Even those who have received help are confused: The rules are draconian, and some are stuck sitting on money they don’t know how to use. Many small-business owners are getting less than they expected or not hearing anything at all.
    • It is unlikely that many schools will return to a normal schedule this fall, requiring the grind of online learning, makeshift child care and stunted workdays to continue. California’s two largest public school districts — Los Angeles and San Diego — said on July 13, that instruction will be remote-only in the fall, citing concerns that surging coronavirus infections in their areas pose too dire a risk for students and teachers. Together, the two districts enroll some 825,000 students. They are the largest in the country so far to abandon plans for even a partial physical return to classrooms when they reopen in August. For other districts, the solution won’t be an all-or-nothing approach. Many systems, including the nation’s largest, New York City, are devising hybrid plans that involve spending some days in classrooms and other days online. There’s no national policy on this yet, so check with your municipal school system regularly to see what is happening in your community.

But on social media, she sees her peers acting differently. They are going to parties on the beach and barbecues. A few have taken trips to Florida or the Caribbean and gone to New York City parties soon after they left the airport.

“I know people are tired of quarantining and the cost of travel has gone down,” said Ms. Castor, 26. “But they seem to take pride in it. They are like, ‘We are going out, we are going to have fun.’”

She also knows her efforts will be in vain if no one else takes the same precautions. “Sometimes it’s like, ‘Wow, am I the issue here?’ Maybe I am just terrified to go out.”

Ms. Castor might be heartened by the efforts of Logan and Lindsay Davis, who moved to New York City from Provo, Utah, in July. When their flight arrived at Kennedy International Airport, there were no officials there to screen them or track them, Mr. Davis said. “We just showed up at the airport and left,” he continued. “We didn’t get screened or tested. No one asked for our address or anything.”

But the couple still quarantined for the full two weeks. “We know New York was the main hot spot for a long time, and we wanted to make sure we were not contributing to that,” said Mr. Davis, a 27-year-old middle-school teacher.

They rented an Airbnb in Harlem, where they had their groceries delivered. Ms. Davis, 24, a student, focused on classwork, while her husband read. “I bought a ton of books, so I escaped into different worlds like ‘World War Z’ and ‘The Time Machine,’” Mr. Davis said. “I’m reading ‘Little Women’ right now, anything to keep my mind occupied.”

On the couple’s 15th day in New York, they walked around Central Park for hours and met friends downtown where they ate bagels in the park and got ice cream in the West Village.

“It really wasn’t that bad,” Mr. Davis said. “Everybody should do it.”