In a bid to curb residents fleeing from three northeastern states where shelter-in-place orders are in effect, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced an executive order March 23 to ensure they aren’t entering Florida and spreading coronavirus.

The order, which took effect March 24, requires commercial passengers coming into Florida from the Tri-State area — New York, New Jersey and Connecticut — to self-quarantine for 14 days upon entry, or for the duration of the person’s stay, whichever is shorter. The order doesn’t apply to airline employees and those performing military, emergency or health responses. 

Then on March 24, the governor took it a step further by ordering New York City passengers flying into the state to report their recent contacts with people before they self-isolate.

At the epicenter of the coronavirus is New York with more than 25,000 confirmed positive cases in the state — close to 15,000 of them from New York City.  Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a stay-at-home executive order on March 20 statewide to control the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

As a result of the order in New York, DeSantis acknowledged the flood of people from the state and New York City who were fleeing. When the epidemic flared, flights went down substantially to around 20 a day from the Empire state to the Sunshine state. 

Fast forward to March 23, when 197 flights came from New York to Florida. Many of those were coming to south Florida, DeSantis acknowledged. He said the National Guard is in place at the Miami and Fort Lauderdale airports. Incoming passengers will be asked to provide info to the Guard. They’ll also receive information to self-isolate. 

“That’s the only way we can be sure that the virus is not going to be introduced into Florida and then spread,” DeSantis said following announcement of his executive action. “Hopefully, that will be a deterrent for people if you’re just simply trying to escape here to avoid restrictions put in place in your own state. …  That’s probably not a good idea.”

Per the executive order, any person who violates the isolation or quarantine directed by the Department of Health will commit a second-degree misdemeanor, which is punishable by 60 days in jail and a fine not to exceed $500, or both. 

The Florida Department of Health is coordinating with the state Division of Emergency Management on the order. DeSantis said personnel from the health department will be meeting with passengers upon arrival to conduct temperature checks and instruct them to self-quarantine. 

DeSantis said the directive and resources needed to enact the order will expand to smaller airports, but did not give a time frame.  

“We’ll take the information and share with local communities to ensure we keep an eye on the folks who may be affected,” he said. 

As for the Key West International Airport, county director of airports Richard Strickland said it didn’t receive any personnel from the health department as of March 24. During a morning conference call with press, Strickland said three passengers from a Newark flight were handed a copy of the executive order when they arrived in Key West just before 11:30 a.m. 

“This is day 1 of the event,” he said. “At this time, we have not been directed to do anything. The specific instruction I received was to wait until you had the Department of Health there. I even called Emergency Management up in Tallahassee to check with them. The full allocation of the health department to roll the order out went to Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando because it’s day 1 of the event.” 

Over the last two weeks, Strickland said inbound flights to Key West are seeing anywhere from four to 12 passengers, while outbound flights have been between 60 and 76.  

“Flights were coming relatively empty but leaving full,” Strickland said.

Cancellations on the day of the flight are becoming a new phenomenon in order to consolidate passengers with so few flying, Strickland said. Flights from LaGuardia International Airport are only seen on weekends. Weekday flights come in from Newark, Chicago, Tampa, Orlando, Philadelphia, Fort Lauderdale, Dallas, Atlanta, Charlotte and Miami. 

“We’re talking two flights a day (from the Tri-State area) down here. (On March 23), there were 197 flights from that area into the state of Florida. Luckily we only have two,” Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi said. “This is not really related to us even though it’s going to help us. But it’s really for the Miamis and the Fort Lauderdales of the world. …  They’re trying to control folks coming into here.”

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