On Saturday afternoon, Donald Trump visited Norfolk naval station to see the hospital ship USNS Comfort. While there, Trump announced that he is investigating a quarantine of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, which he described as “hot spots” of the coronavirus outbreak.
Trump did not detail how such a quarantine might work, other than saying that it would not block truckers from entering or passing through the states, and that it “won’t affect trade in any way.” However, it seems impossible to think of a way in which whole states might be quarantined that would not affect trade. It also seems incredible that Trump would include Connecticut in such a quarantine, when it is not even in the top 15 states for cases.And finally, none of this explains how Trump could possibly make this work.
Trump might ask states to quarantine themselves, but laws passed following the Civil War would seem to mandate that Trump cannot use the U.S. military to blockade New York’s borders.
Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or the Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.
It certainly seems unlikely that the governors of these states would mandate that the National Guard direct weapons to keep their own citizens from venturing beyond the border.
Trump’s actions would certainly fit with the idea that he will use the coronavirus epidemic as an excuse to increase regionalism, and set states against each other. And, following on Trump’s threats that he will cut off emergency supplies to governors who failed to show proper gratitude, it would suggest that Trump might intend to extort cooperation with regional isolation by withholding funds or materials.
Note that Texas has twice as many cases of COVID-19 as Connecticut. Florida has three times as many. But Trump is not threatening them with quarantine. He’s not making these threats again Tennessee, or Ohio, or Pennsylvania. And he’s also not making the kind of nationwide lock down, federal guidelines, rapid screening, and widespread testing that might actually help.
Speaking with reporters at the White House, Trump repeated his threat, and provided more specifics. “Some people would like to see New York quarantined because it's a hotspot. ... We might not have to do it. But there's a possibility that sometime today we'll do a quarantine … short-term. Two weeks on New York. Probably New Jersey, certain parts of Connecticut.”