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The flight from Newark, New Jersey, landed at Tampa International Airport only 12 minutes after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order went into effect.
Most of the 14 passengers scattered throughout the plane had not yet heard that DeSantis had ordered all travelers like them to self-quarantine for two weeks upon landing.
Clutching copies of the three-page executive order provided by a JetBlue crew member, the passengers on JetBlue Flight 905 collected their bags and dispersed across Tampa Bay into the quiet night.
It’s unclear how, or if, authorities will keep tabs on them.
The day before, DeSantis took the unprecedented measure of requiring anyone who flies to Florida from an area with “substantial community spread” of the coronavirus to isolate or quarantine for 14 days and made it a criminal penalty to violate the order.
It went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.
Hours later, DeSantis said he was penning a second executive order requiring anyone traveling from the New York City area to Florida, or who has done so in the last three weeks, to self-isolate and to list anyone they’ve had contact with.
New York state has more than 25,000 cases of the coronavirus. The virus’ spread in that state has been accelerating, transforming New York City into an epicenter of the pandemic.
DeSantis on Tuesday referred to New York City as a “hot zone” for the coronavirus. He said he didn’t want “all the hard work” Florida was doing to contain the coronavirus to be ceded by travelers from New York and other areas.
Yet it’s unclear just how DeSantis’ orders will be enforced. He has not laid out how authorities will know exactly which travelers coming through airports or driving over the state border ought to be screened and isolated or quarantined.
When asked Tuesday how his orders would be enforced, DeSantis said the state will ask travelers for the address of where they are staying so it will be easier to follow up.
“I think most folks understand that they need to do this. I think most folks are going to be compliant,” DeSantis said. He added that his order has “teeth to hold someone accountable” but did not elaborate.
The mechanics of how travelers are supposed to self-isolate, particularly if they are planning to stay with family and friends, are also unclear. And if a traveler comes home to a bare pantry, can they go shopping?
The governor’s office has not clarified.
The Florida National Guard is deployed at Miami International Airport and Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport, where they will collect information from visitors coming off flights from New York City, DeSantis said. They will be deployed to other airports later, he said.
Tampa International Airport sees an average of 25 to 30 flights a day from the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, said airport spokeswoman Emily Nipps.
That doesn’t include flights that may have originated in that area but had a layover somewhere else.
The flights come in from multiple airlines across three different terminals.
DeSantis’ Monday executive order notes that it’s up to the Florida Department of Health to “ensure the screening and appropriate isolation and quarantine of individuals."
The Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County said it is working with other agencies on how to follow the executive order.
Dexter Toledo of Sarasota, who was one of the 14 passengers on the early-morning JetBlue flight from Newark, said he is taking the state’s mandate seriously.
“I hate the fact that I might be infecting people,” said Toledo, 46, who was returning from a trip with his 13-year-old son to visit his sister in New Jersey.
Toledo said he’ll follow the order and stay home and self-quarantine for two weeks. He’ll do it, he said, even though it will mean missing out on much-needed paychecks from his two jobs.
Toledo said he and his son stayed up until 5:30 a.m. Tuesday after arriving home so they could do laundry and clean and wipe down their luggage.
After getting some sleep, Toledo said he drove out to the Publix and Panera Bread stores where he worked. He wanted to give them copies of the governor’s executive order, he said, and talk to them about scheduling.
Fellow traveler Patricia Byrnes of Tarpon Springs said she planned to follow the executive order and self-quarantine.
The 60-year-old said she’s retired, so the order will be easier on her than on those who have jobs.
Byrnes said she’ll sleep in a separate bedroom from her husband and plans to exercise and do some spring cleaning while she stays in the house. If anything, she said, the order will give her an excuse not to have to walk her dog, she said with a laugh.
“I don’t feel sick but I am going to do my part not to spread the cooties down here,” Byrnes said. “Anything I can do to make people less panicky.”
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