President Donald Trump walked back comments on imposing a quarantine on the states of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, and tweeted Saturday evening that "a quarantine will not be necessary."
Instead, Trump said he ordered the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue a "strong" travel advisory. He said further guidance would be released by the CDC later on Saturday night.
Trump told reporters earlier that day he was considering imposing a quarantine on the states to prevent the further spread of the virus throughout the country.
"We'd like to see New York quarantined because it's a hotspot — New York, New Jersey, maybe one or two other places, certain parts of Connecticut quarantined," Trump told reporters at a press gaggle on Saturday. "We might not have to do it, but there's a possibility that sometime today we'll do a quarantine — short term two weeks for New York, probably New Jersey and parts of Connecticut."
The president said he did not want to impose what he called an "enforceable quarantine," though he "may have to," he told reporters on the White House's South Lawn, WABC reported.
The president confirmed he was considering such a move on Twitter Saturday afternoon, saying a "decision will be made, one way or another, shortly."
The state of New York is currently dealing with the worst of the outbreak nationwide and has been called the new epicenter of the virus, which has now infected more people in the US than any other country in the world.
According to data from Johns Hopkins University, New York currently has more than 46,000 cases in the state. New Jersey is second in the nation with more than 8,000 cases. California is in third with more than 4,800 cases, though reports did not suggest the president indicated he was interested in imposing restrictions on California.
States across the country, including New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut have placed residents on "stay at home" orders, requiring that only essential personnel travel outside.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said stay at home orders could last as long as nine months, noting that "this is not a short-term situation."
Cuomo at a press conference Saturday said he had not talked with the president about a quarantine. Cuomo said he wasn't sure what such a measure would look like or be legally enforceable.
"From a medical point of view, I don't even know what you'd be accomplishing," Cuomo said.
According to the CDC, the federal government obtains its power to both isolate and quarantine citizens under the authority given by the commerce clause of the US constitution. The federal government is permitted to mandate isolation or quarantine for a host of diseases, including "severe acute respiratory syndromes," the CDC said.
"Under section 361 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S. Code § 264), the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services is authorized to take measures to prevent the entry and spread of communicable diseases from foreign countries into the United States and between states," according to the CDC website.
The CDC said such isolation or quarantine measures would require an executive order from the president. According to the agency, a quarantine "separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick" as opposed to isolation, which it says "separates sick people with a quarantinable communicable disease from people who are not sick."
The president has in recent days suggested that current social distancing measures could be relaxed as soon as Easter in order to salvage the economy, prompting tension between state leaders who have suggested the virus will require longer periods of business closures and social distancing practices.
"You can't put a time frame on saving people's lives," Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, said Wednesday. "We're going to make decisions based on the scientists and the facts."