Travelers venturing into New York City on Thursday found a new line of defense against the coronavirus manning checkpoints in all five boroughs — armed sheriff’s deputies.
Drivers heading into Gotham via the tunnels and bridges were pulled over at random. Commuters arriving at Penn Station and the Port Authority were scrutinized. And visitors disembarking at area airports were being required to fill out forms and provide contact information.
The questions from the deputies and other officials at the COVID-19 checkpoints were always the same: Where have you been? Where are you headed?
The display of muscle was aimed at enforcing New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s travel order, which requires people who have spent at least 24 hours in the dozens of states (and Puerto Rico) where the coronavirus has been spreading like wildfire to quarantine for 14 days after arriving in the area.
That includes New Yorkers returning home, officials have said.
Cuomo’s move comes as the national death toll from COVID-19 climbed over 160,000 on Thursday and NBC News revealed that in the previous week, one person died of the virus every 80 seconds and the pace of the fatalities was increasing.
The U.S. has now logged nearly 5 million confirmed coronavirus cases, with most of the new cases and deaths in the South and in the Sunbelt. But states in the Northeast like New Jersey and Connecticut that were hit hard at the start of the pandemic — and were able to flatten the curve –- have reported upticks in new cases.
The number of new cases in New York, by contrast, has been trending downward in the past two weeks, NBC News analysis showed. But still, local officials are not taking any chances.
“New York City is holding the line against COVID-19, and New Yorkers have shown tremendous discipline,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday. “We’re not going to let our hard work slip away and will continue to do everything we can to keep New Yorkers safe and healthy.”
New York City Sheriff Joseph Fucito said his deputies, backed by other law enforcement agencies, “will undertake traveler registration checkpoints at major bridge and tunnel crossings into New York City.”
“The entire team will strive to ensure the deployment balances the critical public health and welfare needs of the residents of the city with the legal protections entitled to all people,” Fucito said.
To get a sense of how this might play out, the sheriff's office backed by officers from other local departments staged a "pilot" operation on Wednesday from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m on the Goethals Bridge, which connects the New York City borough of Staten Island to New Jersey.
"There were 47 vehicles that were stopped," Laura Feyer, deputy press secretary for Mayor de Blasio, said in an email. "Everyone was very cooperative and there were no issues."
As of Thursday morning, New York has reported 424,399 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 33,561 deaths. New Jersey has reported 186,696 cases and 15,843 deaths. And in Connecticut, officials have reported 50,225 cases and 4,437 deaths.
In other developments:
President Donald Trump said, without evidence, that a COVID-19 vaccine could be ready by Election Day. "I think in some cases, yes, possible before, but right around that time," Trump said in response to a question on Geraldo Rivera's radio show. Most scientists say that's extremely unlikely. And Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious diseases official, said on Wednesday the earliest vaccine doses could become available would be by the end of next year. Trump has repeatedly downplayed the danger of Covid-19 even as the numbers of deaths and confirmed new cases have exploded.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican who has been praised for taking aggressive steps to contain the coronavirus, tested positive for COVID-19 shortly before he was supposed to rendezvous with Trump in Cleveland — but a second test came back negative later Thursday, his office said. DeWine left the job of welcoming Trump to his lieutenant governor. The first test was said to be an antigen test, and the test that came back negative was a PCR test which his office said is sensitive and specific to the virus. DeWine will be tested again Saturday.
Lara Trump, who is married to the president's son Eric and serves as a campaign adviser, insisted in a Fox News interview that "while the kids might get coronavirus, they certainly don't die from it. " She made the remark when asked about reopening schools, something the White House has been pushing. The American Association of Pediatrics agrees that it is rare for children to die of the virus. But it does happen. In May, a 5-year-old boy from New York became the first confirmed child coronavirus victim. And since then, more than 60 others have died, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There's also the concern that children could contract COVID-19 at school and spread it to their parents and other relatives.
The potential dangers of reopening schools were on display in Mississippi where more than 100 people in one district were ordered to quarantine for two weeks after six students and a staffer tested positive for Covid-19. Their diagnosis came less than two weeks after in-school education started in the city of Corinth. "We believe that most of these earlier cases are the result of community transmission, which further highlights the need for all community members to adopt and practice recommended safety measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus," Superintendent Lee Childress said in a statement.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama said on her podcast that the pandemic, which has been especially cruel to people of color, coupled with the racial strife in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd, has left her suffering from low-grade depression. "Not just because of the quarantine, but because of the racial strife, and just seeing this administration, watching the hypocrisy of it, day in and day out, is dispiriting," she said Wednesday. "I’d be remiss to say part of this depression is also a result of what we're seeing in terms of the protests, the continued racial unrest that has plagued this country since its birth."
The Notre Dame-Navy football game, a yearly tradition since 1927, will not be played this year. Touted as the “longest, continuous intersectional rivalry” in college football, the tradition-rich game was originally set for Dublin, Ireland, on Aug. 29 but then moved to Annapolis when the pandemic struck. But the game rescheduled for Sept. 5 was sacked by scheduling changes aimed at preventing the spread of the virus, The Capital Gazette reported.