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Florida governor orders New York travelers to quarantine

March 24, 2020 GMT
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A closed sign, attached on the outside fence at the Alafia River State Park, is shown Monday, March 23, 2020, in Lithia, Fla. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has issued an order closing all of Florida's 175 state parks, trails and historic sites to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
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A closed sign, attached on the outside fence at the Alafia River State Park, is shown Monday, March 23, 2020, in Lithia, Fla. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has issued an order closing all of Florida's 175 state parks, trails and historic sites to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday he is issuing an executive order mandating that anyone arriving on a flight from New York City and the surrounding area submit to self-quarantine for two weeks as he tries to avoid issuing a statewide shutdown similar to other states.

DeSantis said in an address from his Tallahassee office that more than 100 such flights arrive daily in Florida and he believes each contains at least one person infected with the new coronavirus.

He said he has been in contact with federal officials about curtailing such flights, but has not yet received a response. He said arriving passengers will be screened by health officials and law enforcement and told they must self-quarantine. He said those travelers will not be allowed to stay with family or friends, because that is one way the virus is spread.

He did not say specifically how the self-quarantine would be enforced, but Florida law says it is a second-degree misdemeanor to violate a quarantine order that could result in a 60-day jail sentence.

“It is actually a criminal offense if you violate the quarantine orders, so people can be held accountable here in the State of Florida if they buck the law,” DeSantis said.

He said earlier that he spoke about the issue Sunday night with President Donald Trump, who recently changed his official residence from Manhattan to his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach.

Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach in particular have a close relationship with New York City, earning South Florida the nickname “The Sixth Borough” to complement Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. Many residents are transplants from that area — New York Yankee baseball games are even broadcast on local radio. This is the time of year many transplants’ families visit.

Asked about the order at a news conference, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said “I understand it. We are the epicenter.” But he said he has mixed feelings about travel restrictions in general. “I’m not sure it’s the most enlightened approach.”

He noted that many Floridians have “deep, deep” ties to New York, saying, “I’m sure a lot of people in Florida are going to be put off by it.”

As of Monday evening, more than 1,200 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Florida and 17 have died, an increase of four since Sunday.

State officials did not immediately return calls Monday evening seeking information on how many of those diagnosed in Florida recently arrived or returned from New York or had contact with someone who did.

DeSantis also said Monday he wants to avoid imposing a statewide lockdown like California, New York and other states have done, saying he still believes targeting the counties hardest hit by the virus for the most extreme measures is preferable.

DeSantis said about a third of Florida’s 67 counties have no confirmed cases and another third have few, so he doesn’t yet see the need to impose a near shutdown on their businesses that have been imposed in large counties such as Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach where the disease has spread into the community. Most of the counties with few or no infections are smaller ones along the state’s northern limits or surrounding Lake Okeechobee.

“It would be a very blunt instrument. When you’re ordering people to shelter in place you are consigning a number – probably hundreds of thousands of Floridians to lose their jobs,” DeSantis said. “You’re throwing their lives potentially into disarray, and if that were something necessary statewide because the health comes first, that would be one thing. But if you look at Florida’s situation right now, this is not a virus that’s impacting every corner of the state.”

He said states that have issued orders to stay home have seen large numbers of residents refusing to comply.

“New York City, it’s like the party never ended — you’ve got people congregating all over the place,” DeSantis said. He said such people realize ”a governor is not going to start imprisoning people just because they leave their house.”

DeSantis has ordered such statewide closures as bars and gyms and limited restaurants to takeout and delivery. Some counties have gone farther, closing not only nonessential businesses but also beaches, marinas and parks. State parks have been closed.

Some Florida Democrats are calling on the Republican governor to impose a statewide stay-at-home order.

The virus causes only minor flu-like symptoms in most people, who recover in a matter of weeks. But it is highly contagious and can cause severe illness or death in some patients, particularly the elderly and those with existing health problems.

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AP writer Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale contributed to this report.

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