New York’s snowbirds, super-rich could stymie attempts to seal Florida borders

NEW YORK CITY— New York’s got some bad news for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis: The snowbird has flown the coop.

In an effort to keep coronavirus carriers away from the epicenter of the outbreak, DeSantis on Monday ordered mandatory quarantines for passengers arriving by both land and air from the Empire State, Connecticut and New Jersey.

But try as he might to staunch the alleged flow of New Yorkers to Florida in the midst of the coronavirus, not only has nearly all flight traffic from New York area airports ground to a halt, the New Yorkers who want to be in Florida right now are probably already there. Those who still want to go will almost certainly find a way around his possibly illegal attempt to blockade them — some by private jet.

“I’m there,” one New York financial services worker told POLITICO, seeking anonymity because his firm hasn’t authorized him to speak to the press. “My wife was living [in Boca Raton, Fla.] in the winter. I go every weekend. I came down … a couple of weeks ago. The whole thing is just crazy.”

On the flip side are those New Yorkers like Carl Weisbrod, New York City’s former planning chair, who owns an apartment in Miami Beach but feels safer in New York, where the city’s mayor and governor are, he says, showing more leadership on the issue than their Floridian counterparts.

DeSantis “has been reluctant in his responsibility to close beaches and lock down Florida, where he is exposing the state with the largest percentage of vulnerable people, people over 65, unnecessarily,” Weisbrod said.

Nevertheless, in recent days, as New York City has become the Wuhan of the United States, DeSantis has made a show of trying to block residents’ passage southward, joining a segment of the conservative class that regards New York’s epicenter status as evidence of its filthy liberal ways.

On Monday — well after the coronavirus reared its head in the Sunshine State, the Republican governor issued an order requiring every person arriving from New York to self-quarantine for two weeks. That struck some New Yorkers as reasonable enough. But then he went further, calling on the National Guard to obtain information from each passenger stepping off a New York flight and turn it over to local authorities.

Florida residents who may have traveled to New York in the past three weeks, and anyone who drove rather than flew, are expected to adhere to the 14-day quarantine, too, but on their honor.

All of which, by the numbers, seems Pyrrhic, possibly unconstitutional, and certainly hard to enforce.

“The whole thing is just a ridiculous ploy, and if they’re coming in by car, there’s no border,” the financial services professional said.

“First of all, is he going to set up roadblocks?” Weisbrod asked.

Florida has long been the top spot for New York escapees — a recent study showed that over a seven-year period, more than 21 percent of people moving from New York headed to Florida. Their average income was $90,310.

Those with greater means often split the difference — either weekending there like the financial services worker, or heading south in the early winter and returning in the spring.

“There are no doubt tens of thousands — if not more — retired New Yorkers who are now in their customary seasonal Florida stay who were planning to return around Easter,” said Empire Center’s E.J. McMahon, who headed the transplant study.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, using FlightAware data, said that there has been a significant drop, with just a few dozen daily flights to Orlando from the four commercial airports serving New York.

From March 20 through 24, scheduled departures from Port Authority airports — which include LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy International, Newark Liberty International and Stewart International — to Orlando ranged from 56 to 61 flights any given day. Actual departures, which account for cancellations, ranged from 45 on March 20 to 34 on March 24.

The Port Authority said its passenger traffic has dropped 85 percent from last March.

With or without New Yorkers, Covid-19 is in Florida to stay. It’s spreading rapidly in Florida’s two most populous regions, Miami-Dade and Broward counties, something DeSantis partly blamed on an influx of New Yorkers sidestepping stay-at-home orders.

“Honestly, I don’t think that it’s relevant — because no one voluntarily is flying,” said Kathy Wylde, president of Partnership for New York City, a business group. The exception, of course, is the uber-wealthy, who are not part of the economy class shuffle through airports that DeSantis is now monitoring with military forces.

New York’s stay-home order and surge in confirmed coronavirus cases has caused the state’s — and specifically New York City’s — upper crust to retreat to second homes in Connecticut, the Hamptons or Florida, Wylde said.

“I wouldn’t know how to quantify it honestly — it’s a small spectrum of the population that has the luxury [to fly privately], but a meaningful number have told me they’ve found — to their surprise — that they can operate their hedge fund, their private equity firm or their office remotely and are doing so,” she said.

But enforcing restrictions on those incoming flights might not be top priority, Wylde hypothesized, especially considering DeSantis’ trips to New York last year aiming to recruit some of those very top earners to move their businesses to his state.

The perceived futility of the endeavor’s efficacy is not lost on New York’s governor, a Democrat, who has been one of the loudest voices in the coronavirus response and has a national platform to address it.

Cuomo, who last week chastised young people who spent spring breaks on beaches in the southern states as “unintelligent and reckless,” is all but staying out of the DeSantis drama.

He twice deflected questions during press events this week about whether New York City residents should stay put to avoid infecting other regions. He instead deferred to his Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, who responded broadly that people should follow social distancing guidelines wherever they are in the state or the country.

When asked again on Thursday, Cuomo did not remark on whether the Florida order was appropriate or perhaps prompted by his own strict stay-home directive.

“Dr. Zucker’s position is that it’s not necessary, and I would agree with Dr. Zucker,” he said, and moved on.

Dana Rubinstein reported from New York, Anna Gronewold reported from Albany, N.Y. and Arek Sarkissian reported from Tallahasse, Fla. Lorraine Woellert contributed reporting from Washington.