President Donald Trump said on Saturday that he could ban travel within and outside the New York area to limit the spread of coronavirus from its epicenter in the U.S., but the state governor called the idea "anti-American" and said he would not cooperate. .
"If you started to isolate areas across the country, it would be totally bizarre, counterproductive and anti-American," he told CNN. "It makes absolutely no sense and I don't think any serious government person or professional will support it."
Since the virus first appeared in the United States in late January, Trump has hesitated between minimizing the risks of infection and urging Americans to take steps to slow its spread.
The United States now has more than 120.000 confirmed cases, the highest number in the world.
Trump was also reluctant to invoke emergency powers to order American companies to produce much-needed medical supplies, despite requests from governors and hospital officials.
On Saturday, he seemed to soften his earlier comments calling for the US economy to reopen in mid-April. "Let's see what happens," he said.
It was unclear whether Trump would be able to block road, air and sea travel outside a region that serves as the economic engine of the eastern United States, representing 10% of the population and 12% of GDP.
Some states have already imposed limits. New Yorkers arriving in Florida and Rhode Island face self-isolation orders if they intend to stay, and the governors of Pennsylvania and West Virginia have asked them to come and go to the state.
On Saturday, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu asked all visitors to his state who did not come for work reasons to voluntarily quarantine themselves.
New cases of coronavirus in China stabilized after the government imposed a strict blockade of Wuhan, the epicenter of the disease.
The body count continues to rise in Italy, where authorities have blocked travel around the country and prevented people from leaving their homes for less essential reasons.
The number of cases in the United States eclipsed those in China and Italy on Thursday.
Trump said any blockade in the New York area would apply only to people leaving the region. It would not cover truck drivers delivering or driving around the area, he said.
US law gives the president the authority to restrict travel between states, law experts said. But he would not be able to recruit local police to establish checkpoints along state lines, and it would be difficult to determine who would be allowed to pass, said Edward Richards, a professor of law at Louisiana State University.
"The logistics of deciding who is an essential person or essential cargo can disrupt the ability to transport essential personnel and supplies," he said.
Even if it were possible, a blockade in the New York area could be too late for the rest of the country.
The number of coronavirus patients in California hospitals has increased by more than a third overnight, said Governor Gavin Newsom.
Louisiana officials, where Mardi Gras celebrations at the end of last month in New Orleans fueled an outbreak, reported an additional 17 deaths and 569 new cases on Saturday.
The disease proved to be more fatal among the elderly, but Illinois Governor JB Pritzker said on Saturday that a baby had died in his state.
American health professionals are asking for more equipment and protective equipment, while facing a wave of patients.
Doctors are also especially concerned about the lack of ventilators, breathing machines needed by those suffering from COVID-19, the pneumonia-like respiratory disease caused by the highly contagious new coronavirus.
Hospitals also raised the alarm about a shortage of drugs, oxygen tanks and trained staff.
On Saturday, nurses protested outside the Jacobi Medical Center in New York, saying that supervisors asked them to reuse their masks, putting their own health at risk.
A medical intern at New York Presbyterian Hospital said they received only one mask.
"It is not the people who make these decisions that enter the patients' rooms," said the intern, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Source: Reuters // Image credits: REUTERS / Andrew Kelly