Confused travelers confront NJ’s new COVID quarantine

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

Arizona resident Deborah Fischer landed at the airport in Newark to suddenly confront New Jersey’s new 14-day COVID quarantine. It’s imposed on travelers from states with raging outbreaks, including the Carolinas, Florida, Texas and Arizona. Fischer found no signs explaining quarantine rules and figured she’d ask at her hotel.

“I don’t know financially how I would do that. I have daughters. There’s no one I can contact for the money and I certainly don’t have the savings to do that at hotel rates here,” Fischer said.

Gov. Phil Murphy calls his tri-state quarantine with New York and Connecticut an advisory. He won’t set penalties for violations like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo did. He warned that New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli can act.

“That is a broad population to put up guards at our borders of the state of New Jersey,” Murphy said, “but to single out non-compliant behavior, take very explicit, tough action.”

Meanwhile, the move turned the tables on states like Florida, which imposed quarantines on New York metro travelers back when the virus roared through the region.

“If you live in one of those states, don’t come to New Jersey,” said Denville resident Ed Warren.

Jersey travelers returning from hot spot states face the same quarantine.

“I mean, I’m totally compliant. Whatever it takes, I’m in agreement,” said Denville resident Terri Paradise.

“The situation is how it is. And if that’s what I have to do, that’s what I have to do, unfortunately,” said Judy Hatten from East Orange.

“It’s great,” said Sayreville resident Noeleen Markwood. “We have to do it to stay safe and keep others safe.”

But it’s not really the quarantine that experts are focused on. New virus models suggest that the fate of New Jersey rests mostly in the hands of its residents and whether they mask up and social distance.

Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins crunches COVID numbers, and says for weeks data showed New Jersey moving in the right direction with one of the lowest infection growth rates in the nation. But as the state reopens, the numbers are creeping up and infection growth rates are higher today in 16 of 21 counties. He commends the state’s strong testing and contact tracing programs.

“The future can really spin on itself really quickly because this disease is so infectious,” said Kreiss-Tomlins, the co-founder of COVID Act Now. “At least, if the disease starts increasing, you’re able to monitor that. You’ve got surveillance. You know what is happening.”

Private long-range forecasts provided by the Governor’s Office predict two scenarios for a second New Jersey COVID wave that depend on residents wearing masks and social distancing through the entire month of July. If people do, new hospital cases could peak at about 700 by mid-April 2021.

If people don’t comply, models show a steep rise in COVID hospitalizations through fall and spiking to almost 5,000 next spring.

Dr. Steven Sheris heads the Atlantic Medical Group. He says Jersey hospitals are all prepping for the worst and stockpiling ventilators and personal protective equipment — working supply chains with hard-won expertise.

“We’re ready. The health system in New Jersey is ready. The government in New Jersey is ready. Are the citizens of New Jersey ready? Will they do their part?” he asked.

Sheris says he hopes Jersey residents will prove they remember the hard lessons learned during the COVID surge.