Following Staff Concerns, Southampton Town Board To Require Visitors To Swear They’re Not Visiting From Restricted States

The Southampton Town Board discussed its policy concerning visitors and quarantine. KITTY MERRILL

Following concerns by town workers, Southampton Town officials will now require visitors to Town Hall to fill out forms attesting that they have not entered New York State from high-risk states without a quarantining for 14 days.

Calling New York State “an island in a sea of spread,” Governor Andrew Cuomo called upon local governments to step up enforcement of compliance and quarantine orders. In Southampton, potential violations of the governor’s quarantine orders were a focus of discussion during the Southampton Town Board’s August 6 work session.

Town Clerk Sundy Schermeyer broached the topic, asking how her staff should react when people come to Town Hall who may have just arrived from restricted states.
“I’m not quite sure what we’re supposed to do about that,” she said.

There are 34 states, including Florida and California, from which visitors are required to quarantine for two weeks after entry into New York, according to the governor’s orders.

“I know the state government has been very on top of this. If you land in a plane they are immediately there talking to you … checking up on you,” Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said. “If you’re aware of people who are violating the law, who have come in from these states and are under mandatory quarantine, please bring those individual’s names to my attention … They cannot be here, they have to be home.”

There are a few exceptions, but it’s a mandatory quarantine, he said.

“People fly in from somewhere and they come in here to get a marriage license or some other type of license, and it’s fairly clear that they’ve just arrived, but we don’t have proof of that other than conversations we’ve had,” Ms. Schermeyer explained.

She said that when she and staff inform the visitors they have to quarantine, they will say they came from a state that’s not on the list.

Town Public Safety and Emergency Management Administrator Ryan Murphy said municipalities are supposed to share the names of people suspected of violating quarantine with the Suffolk County department of health, but, he added, “I don’t know how well equipped they are to follow up on that. There’s so much honor system working.”

“My concern is for my staff,” Ms. Schermeyer emphasized. “It unnerves everybody.”

Mr. Murphy said he’d been contacted by staff and assured that if the visitor is masked and the staff member is masked, the coronavirus transmission rate is greatly decreased.

Ms. Schermeyer said she was concerned about people coming in, but “I can’t enforce that.”

“Yes, we can,” Mr. Schneiderman asserted. The supervisor said that if he is given a name, he will alert the Southampton Town Police who would go to the person’s home to ensure they are quarantining. “It is important that it is brought to our attention.”

Town Hall has a manned security desk at the entrance. Mr. Schneiderman wondered if visitors could be required to fill out an attestation form when they arrive.

Mr. Murphy explained that early on during reopening discussions, he conferred with Town Attorney James Burke about whether, as a public facility, the town could query people.

Access denial would be comparable to rendering a medical determination, he said, “and we are not qualified to do so.” It also relies on the honesty of answers to the questions, Mr. Murphy pointed out.

Mr. Burke said he’d check with other municipalities about visitor forms, but noted some buildings are not even open to the public yet.

Mr. Schneiderman said that Town Hall visitors should have to fill out a form when they arrive at the security desk and if the visitors say they’ve come from a state on the quarantine list, they should be refused admittance and their names referred to law enforcement. He asked for the forms to be implemented at the check-in desk. Mr. Murphy said he’d work with the legal department to create one.

The governor’s quarantine order applies to any person arriving from a state with a positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents over a seven-day rolling average, or a state with a 10 percent or higher positivity rate over a seven-day rolling average.

New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut first announced a joint travel advisory on June 24, singling out anyone returning from travel to states with a significant community-wide coronavirus infection rate. The initial order was in place for nine states. On July 7, there were 19 states on the quarantine list. As of Monday, August 10, there were 35.

Mr. Cuomo said people who don’t voluntarily quarantine for 14 days will be subject to fines and a mandatory quarantine. He said the fines will be $2,000 for the first violation, $5,000 for the second, and up to $10,000 if they cause harm.

On July 15, the governor announced the beginning of a travel enforcement operation, at airports across the state, including Long Island MacArthur airport in Islip. Enforcement teams stationed at airports would meet arriving aircraft at gates and greet disembarking passengers to request proof of completion of the State Department of Health traveler form.

The form is distributed to passengers by airlines prior to, and upon boarding or disembarking flights to New York State.

Travelers who leave the airport without completing the form will be subject to a $2,000 fine and may be brought to a hearing and ordered to complete mandatory quarantine.

On the East End, there are two airports where private planes land — in East Hampton and Westhampton. They were not mentioned by the governor when he listed targeted facilities.