A COVID-19 quarantine order in New York? Not for professional sports teams – Democrat & Chronicle


ALBANY – The New York Yankees are scheduled to travel to Florida in early August to take on the Tampa Bay Rays before returning to the Bronx for a nine-game homestand.

It’s the type of trek that’s a mainstay in Major League Baseball, where games between divisional rivals like the Rays and Yankees make up an outsize portion of a jam-packed schedule

If the Yankees were regular travelers, their schedule would be complicated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s June 25 order requiring those coming to New York from states with high rates of COVID-19 — including Florida — to quarantine for 14 days upon their arrival.

The Yankees, however, are not regular travelers in New York’s eyes.

Last week, the state Department of Health issued guidance easing the travel order for all professional sports teams, allowing players, coaches and team staff to break quarantine to play games, practice or provide support.

The exemption applies to any professional team playing any sport, removing a potential headache for Major League Baseball and National Football League teams — including the Mets, Yankees and the Buffalo Bills — as they look to begin hosting games in New York later this month and in the fall, respectively.

It specifically applies to NASCAR, too, though the auto-racing organization still decided Wednesday to pull its annual race at Waktins Glen International in Schuyler County.

“Individuals from a state with significant rates of transmission of COVID-19 to New York State for a professional sports activity … may travel to the extent necessary to participate in the professional sports activity, but must otherwise remain quarantined,” according to a guidance document issued by the state Department of Health.

The pro sporting events will also be held without fans to limit the risk of spreading the virus.

Quarantine order in place since late June

New York’s quarantine advisory was first issued June 25 in conjunction with neighboring New Jersey and Connecticut. It came as the spread of the coronavirus slowed dramatically in the Northeast but was taking hold in southern and western states.

The advisory initially applied to travelers from eight states but has since grown to 19, including California, Florida and Texas, the nation’s three most populous states and home to more than 30 major professional sports teams.

In New York, those who violate the advisory could be subject to a mandatory quarantine order from a local health department. From there, a violation could result in a fine of up to $2,000 for a first-time offense, according to Cuomo.

The pro sports exemption did not come as a surprise. 

Cuomo had suggested the day he issued the order that the Health Department would carve out Major League Baseball teams, noting he had previously struck a deal with the New York Mets and Yankees the week before to train at their home ballparks. 

“The health commissioner (Dr. Howard Zucker) is working on a health protocol with them, and we started that last week,” Cuomo said June 24. “And that will be subject to a separate protocol that’s done between the state and the two teams, or whatever teams come back to spring training.”

Exemption applies to all professional sports activity

Cuomo did not mention other sports at the time. But when the Health Department issued its exemption last week, it applied to all professional sports.

That includes the National Football League, which like Major League Baseball has opted for a schedule that will see teams travel from city to city, much like they would in a normal, non-coronavirus year.

Other major professional sports leagues, including the National Hockey League, National Basketball Association and WNBA, have opted for a “bubble” approach, where all teams play their games in one or two hub cities rather than risk having players pick up the virus in their otherwise frequent travels.

More:How the NBA bubble has taken shape in Disney World

The exemption clears the way for the Mets, Yankees and Bills — the only NFL team to play home games in New York — to travel the country and host out-of-state teams. It also applies to tennis players participating in the U.S. Open in Queens, which begins Aug. 31.

But it will require the traveling athletes, staff and coaches to quarantine and avoid all public spaces in New York when they aren’t participating in their sport. That includes members of New York-based teams returning to their home state.

Players, coaches and staff will also be required to be tested for COVID-19 within 24 hours of arriving to New York. They will also be required to follow all social-distancing and mask-wearing rules when they aren’t in a public setting.

Church group decries ‘inconsistent’ rules

New York’s quarantine order and carveout for sports teams comes as some businesses and nonprofits have raised issue with the lack of uniformity in the state’s coronavirus restrictions. 

A handful of priests and Orthodox Jewish congregants, for example, sued Cuomo’s administration over capacity restrictions for religious services, which were capped at 25% at a time when most retail stores were allowed 50%.

A federal judge sided with the religious institutions, requiring the state to allow places of worship to have the same indoor capacity allowed of stores and other institutions. The judge barred the state from restricting outdoor religious services so long as social distancing measures are in place.

More:Federal judge blocks COVID-19 restrictions on New York religious services

Jason McGuire, executive director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, an evangelical Christian advocacy group, said Cuomo’s quarantine order is complicating plans for some New York churches who usually welcome missionaries from other states.

The pro sports exemption highlights the “inconsistency” of the state’s coronavirus rules, he said.

“Churches will voluntarily abide by certain restrictions — and have — if they felt it was really helping with a public safety issue,” McGuire said. “But when sports organizations are exempt and restaurants can have greater seating capacity, then it becomes a real problem when it feels like churches are being unfairly targeted.”

New York’s decision to exempt pro sports teams from its quarantine order is in line with a similar federal policy.

In May, Acting U.S. Homeland Security Director Chad Wolf signed an order allowing certain professional athletes to travel to the country from nations that had otherwise been barred during the coronavirus outbreak, including Hong Kong and the United Kingdom.

“In today’s environment, Americans need their sports,” Wolf said in a statement at the time. “It’s time to reopen the economy and it’s time we get our professional athletes back to work.”

NASCAR moved NY race anyway

New York’s pro sports exemption was not enough to save the state’s only NASCAR race from taking place this year.

On Wednesday, NASCAR announced it would move its Go Bowling at The Glen race from Watkins Glen to Daytona, Florida. The racing organization issued a press release saying the decision was made because “New York state health and safety regulations cannot allow for the previously scheduled NASCAR weekend to happen there at this time.”

There is no New York regulation blocking the race from taking place, however. 

Cuomo gave Watkins Glen International the green light to resume racing June 1, albeit without fans in the stands. Last month, the state issued guidance for all professional sports activities, including auto racing, to resume without fans. And in the exemption to New York’s quarantine order, NASCAR is included by name.

When asked if NASCAR explained which regulations prevented the race from going forward, Watkins Glen International President Michael Printup said there were logistical concerns.

Watkins Glen International is owned by NASCAR.

“The cancellation was logistics associated with the global pandemic,” Printup wrote in an email. 

College sports will get separate guidance

College sports, meanwhile, are not included in the state’s travel exemption.

Jill Montag, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health, said guidance for collegiate teams is forthcoming and will be tied to the state’s decision on whether colleges will be able to resume in-person classes in the fall.

“As New York has demonstrated through each phase of reopening, the state carefully researches and engages stakeholders, considers the latest health precautions for each specific environment and follows the public health metrics when developing guidance,” she said in a statement.

More:Q&A: What to know about the quarantine if traveling to NY, NJ and CT

More:New York’s minor league towns brace for a summer without baseball

Jon Campbell is a New York state government reporter for the USA TODAY Network. He can be reached at JCAMPBELL1@Gannett.com or on Twitter at @JonCampbellGAN.

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