Normally, the airport would be bustling at this hour, with business travelers and tourists landing from early-morning flights. But LaGuardia’s return has been slow: The volume of flights and passengers has ticked up since April, but the airport’s June numbers remain a staggering 92 percent lower than they were a year ago.
Governor Andrew Cuomo would rather things stay that way a while longer. On Wednesday, he announced that travelers to New York from any of the several states where COVID-19 is spreading rampantly would be required to self-quarantine for 14 days upon their arrival. Violators will be subject to potentially thousands of dollars in fines and “mandatory quarantine,” wherein government agents check on you at home. It’s not clear how well New York can enforce the policy, but it will likely dissuade travel from those states—forcing Floridians, Texans, and Arizonans, among others, to think twice about trying to escape their epidemics by seeking refuge in a state that only recently beat back its own. “We have to make sure the virus doesn't come in on a plane again,” Cuomo said on Wednesday. “We learned that lesson. Been there, done that.”
Read: How New York explains the 49 other states
The governor—famously competitive and reluctant to let go of a grudge—would probably be lying if he said he took no pleasure in his new order. In the early spring, when the pandemic overwhelmed New York’s hospitals and filled its morgues, Rhode Island briefly tried to block New Yorkers from fleeing across its border, and Donald Trump said he was considering a blockade of the tristate area. Florida implemented a mandatory self-quarantine for travelers from New York; the order doesn’t expire until July 7, so a New Yorker who lands in Florida tomorrow technically must still self-isolate, even though the virus’s spread is now far worse in the Sunshine State.
New York, the state that was once the international hot spot for the coronavirus, is suddenly a relative safe harbor. Florida reported a record 5,511 cases on Wednesday, twice the number it reported a week earlier; at its peak, New York was reporting more than 10,000 cases a day, but that has dropped steadily to fewer than 600 per day this week.
At LaGuardia on Tuesday morning, the first two flights of the day from Florida landed just before 11:30 a.m., depositing a few dozen passengers into a brand-new terminal that Cuomo opened just two weeks ago. The project is part of a $8 billion overhaul of LaGuardia that was inspired, in part, by Joe Biden, who infamously compared the long-maligned, 80-year-old airport to “a third-world country” in 2014.
The coronavirus outbreak and a corresponding plunge in traffic helped officials speed up construction of new roadways surrounding LaGuardia—part of a broader infrastructure boost aided by stay-at-home orders. Inside, the pandemic has turned the new terminal’s debut into something of a soft launch, but the result is an airport that feels like it was designed from the get-go with a pandemic in mind. Hand-sanitizer stations are accompanied by antibacterial-wipe dispensers so that passengers can clean their luggage as soon as it comes off the baggage belt (or hoard them for their homes). The plexiglass barriers protecting clerks at the information desk look like permanent features, not ad hoc additions. Elevators have footprint icons affixed to the floor, guiding riders to space out as much as possible; a sticker on the console assures you that the buttons are on an “antimicrobial protected surface.” Even the pet-relief area—fence-enclosed, with artificial grass and doggy-doo receptacles—looks pristine.