Quarantine and Travel: Strict Penalties, Rare Enforcement

“This program, like everything with Covid, is something of a learning process,” said Mr. Jayaram. “If we’ve become aware of someone who may be violating the order, we conduct a pretty thorough investigation.”

Many investigations are spurred by concerned citizens, some of whom are banding together on social media to root out quarantine violators. Hawai’i Quarantine Kapu Breakers, who alerted the authorities to Ms. Salamanca’s transgressions, write that their purpose is, “to bring awareness to issues surrounding tourists and locals not adhering to public safety standards during the pandemic.” (Ms. Salamanca did not respond to requests for comment.) Incidents of community policing have also been reported in Florida, South Carolina and Kentucky, plus examples of particularly vigilant enforcement against Americans attempting to sneak into Canada.

Quarantine violations seem particularly egregious in Hawaii, where, comparatively, the rules are unambiguous. Brad Johnson, who lives in Maui, traveled to Kentucky in early June to be with his ailing father. Mr. Johnson noted that, upon returning to Hawaii weeks later, it was virtually impossible to exit the airport without filling out a form and interacting with government officials, including the Hawaii National Guard. He was required to provide his phone number and told to turn on his location services. Still, he noticed that a number of people who had been on his flight were pushing back both in transit and upon arrival.

“There were maybe a dozen people who were not wearing masks, and kind of creating a ruckus,” he said. “I saw one of these women arguing with officials, and refusing to turn on her phone’s tracking. She was visiting family; it was her right, they were violating it. The officials made clear that her other option was to get back on the plane and go back.”

Mr. Johnson was contacted twice by government officials to make sure that he was abiding by the rules. Other states, in contrast, are making enforcement a much lower priority. Furthermore, the rules of what is and isn’t allowed are less clear.

New York also requires visitors from its changing list of hot-spot states to fill out a form sharing their location and contact information. But the threat of enforcement remains lower than that of Hawaii, not least because of the sheer number of visitors and the disparate entry points. Since the first quarantine order was issued on June 25, the state’s health department has worked in partnership with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to ensure that health officials are stationed at airports and positioned by flights arriving from applicable states to hand out and collect forms (those who refuse are subject to a $2,000 fine).

On Aug. 5, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans to set up checkpoints on metro-area bridges and tunnels, plus similar setups at Penn Station and the Port Authority Bus Terminal. But details of the plan were scarce, and somewhat confusing. According to Amanda Kwan, a senior public information officer at the Port Authority, “The Port Authority has been in contact with the city, and their effort will have no operational impact to any of our facilities. All vehicle checkpoints are being set up off of Port Authority property without Port Authority personnel.” As of Aug. 14, the majority of stops made were on Staten Island, while only 36 vehicles entering Manhattan were stopped.