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National Guard no longer greeting travelers at RI airport, borders

Coronavirus

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) – National Guard checkpoints at Rhode Island’s airport and borders have officially come to an end, WPRI 12 has learned.

Major Dennis Pineault of the Rhode Island National Guard said the operations were halted this month.

“We had reduced our footprint to four soldiers at T.F. Green over the past week,” Pineault said in an email to WPRI 12 earlier this week. “As of May 16, 2020, the [National Guard] is no longer working at T.F. Green. We remain available to resume that operation if required.”

Pineault said the decision to disband the operation was made by officials at the R.I. Dept. of Health, the governor’s office and the National Guard.

“There was not much work to do, to be very honest,” said Governor Gina Raimondo on Wednesday when asked about the decision to stop the checkpoints. “I need to allocate resources including the National Guard to where we need them, we need them a lot more now with contact tracing than at the border.”

National Guardsmen had been stationed at the airport since March 24, greeting arriving passengers, instructing them to self-quarantine for 14 days, and collecting their contact information.

The governor’s current executive order that mandates domestic travelers to self-quarantine is set to expire on May 22; she said this week she would reveal whether she plans to extend that order on Friday, the day it expires. A separate order mandating international travelers to self-quarantine will sunset after June 5, unless it is extended.

National Guard members and Rhode Island State Police were also stopping out-of-state travelers on the ground.

On March 27, guardsmen and troopers started pulling over drivers entering Rhode Island with New York plates, a practice that was expanded to all out-of-state plates just days later.

There were four checkpoints at first, a number that eventually dropped to two: one on I-95 north and another on Route 138 near the Newport Bridge. Those two checkpoints were still operational as of late April, but Pineault said on Wednesday they had been disbanded.

“The numbers were absolutely negligible,” Raimondo said. “We were deploying resources to stop a couple of cars a day, so it just didn’t make sense.”

Raimondo said in Phase 2 there will be more relaxed rules around travel and border checkpoints likely wouldn’t be necessary.

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