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A Letter From Quarantine

road sign that reads 'Welcome to New York The Empire State.'
photo by Flickr user risingthermals, licensed under CC BY-SA

For the second time this year, I am under a two-week quarantine order for COVID-19. I accomplished this, thankfully, without any known exposure to the novel coronavirus that has brought so much misery.

Having experienced Florida’s former quarantine regime last spring, and now New York’s restrictions on travelers (currently applicable to arrivals from 36 states, plus Puerto Rico and Guam), I can offer some comparisons.

An early review: New York gets five stars for “quarantine with heart.” My home state of Florida, whose government policies I typically prefer, gets three stars for “meh, whatever.” Here is how my lockups went down.

I went to New York in early March, just as the pandemic was taking hold in this country and immediately before the metropolitan region became the national epicenter for the outbreak. I stayed there for 10 weeks. By the time I returned to Florida, the Sunshine State had imposed quarantine rules on arrivals from the Northeast, as well as Louisiana, another early hot spot.

I followed the rules, steering my vehicle into a Florida welcome center that had been converted to a checkpoint along Interstate 95, just beyond the Georgia border. Although my Florida vehicle tag and driver’s license, plus a fib, would have allowed me to go unmonitored, my pilot training years ago reinforced that working “within the system” keeps everyone safe. That lesson that has carried over to life outside the cockpit.

So I acknowledged to the friendly staffers manning the checkpoint (equipped with dog biscuits to refresh four-legged travelers) that I was arriving from New York. They gave me a form to complete, identifying the location where I would quarantine, and a printed quarantine order that I may someday frame. Off I drove into the humid night, never to hear from the state of Florida on this subject again.

Fast forward to last week. I drove the minivan back up I-95 so I could spend the upcoming holiday season with family. Having overcome its initial COVID-19 surge at enormous cost in life and resources, New York imposed its own quarantine on travelers from U.S. hot spots in late June. Individuals arriving in the state on domestic flights must complete New York’s Traveler Health Form onboard or at the airport. Those who, like me, travel by car are supposed to complete the form online before arriving. I did this last Thursday, a day before leaving on my 16-hour nonstop drive. The system generates a confirmation document, which drivers can show to inspectors in case of a random spot check. Such inspections are probably highly unusual. I saved my confirmation on my smartphone.

I reached my destination around 2:30 a.m. on Saturday. Late that morning – mercifully, late enough to give me time for some sleep – I received a phone call from a very nice lady named Carol at the New York State Health Department. She thanked me for completing the form, and said I made her smile when I teased her about being my parole officer. I was glad, because I had the distinct impression that her job does not give her many occasions to smile.

Carol sent me an email with my official quarantine order from Westchester County and the protocols I should follow during my two-week confinement. These instructions included a phone number I can call if I become ill or need other assistance. Also, Carol explained, I will be contacted daily either by phone or text (my choice) to confirm my condition.

I opted for the text. Since Sunday, I have received a message each morning around 9 a.m. “Hello L.E.!” it greets me cheerfully, stating my age in case of ambiguity. “This is your daily wellness check-in. Please answer the following quick questions about how you are feeling (or respond ‘STOP’ to discontinue messages): -- L.E. (Age XX), have you had any symptoms today? 1:Yes 2:No”

After I reply in the negative, the system thanks me. “Everything sounds good today. You have XX more days of monitoring remaining. If you'd like to speak to case manager at any time, please message ‘CONTACT’ to this number.”

I am well supplied, with family and co-workers nearby who would bring me anything I need if I needed it. Still, I appreciate the effort New York is making to reassure visitors like me that we are not entirely on our own.

Do I think my quarantine is necessary? Not really. I have been largely isolated for months. Although New York has done an excellent job of reducing its caseload, the virus is already circulating there, as it is almost everywhere. The sort of person who, like me, is apt to comply with quarantine requirements is probably not the sort of person the state needs to worry about. I traveled alone, packed my own food for the trip, wore my mask at every rest stop, and sanitized my hands when I got back to my car.

But that isn’t the point. A traveler is a guest, and a good guest respects the host’s rules. Moreover, a system where everyone makes their own rules is not a system at all. The system is meant to keep everyone safe – as every pilot learns – and the people responsible for everyone’s safety, the ones whose job is to design a workable system, deserve at least a reasonable effort toward compliance.

I’m thinking specifically of Carol, my parole officer. She is entitled to respect, and an occasional smile, too.

Larry M. Elkin is the founder and president of Palisades Hudson, and is based out of Palisades Hudson’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida headquarters. He wrote several of the chapters in the firm’s most recent book, The High Achiever’s Guide To Wealth. His contributions include Chapter 1, “Anyone Can Achieve Wealth,” and Chapter 19, “Assisting Aging Parents.” Larry was also among the authors of the firm’s previous book, Looking Ahead: Life, Family, Wealth and Business After 55.

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