Subpoenas issued after N.Y. party guests refuse to speak to contact tracers

Those who do not comply and share what they know will face fines of $2,000 a day


pennlive.com
By Janet Krajcsik

ROCKLAND COUNTY, N.Y. — To quickly try to contain a coronavirus cluster tied to a big party in a New York City suburb, officials try a legal strategy.

On June 17, a crowd of up to 100 people — most of them in their early 20s — attended a party at a home in West Nyack, Rockland County, N.Y., just north of New York City, reports The New York Times.

Maria Fernanda works on contact tracing at the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade County. Contact tracers are often met with reluctance, and sometimes anger, when attempting to do their jobs. Image: AP Photo/Lynne Sladky
Maria Fernanda works on contact tracing at the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade County. Contact tracers are often met with reluctance, and sometimes anger, when attempting to do their jobs. Image: AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

The event violated the state order in effect at the time when gatherings of 10 people or more were restricted in an effort to slow the coronavirus's spread.

The party's host, who was showing signs of being sick at the time, later tested positive. So did eight guests.

County officials quickly dispatched disease tracers to try to learn who else might have been exposed to the virus at the party.

The tracers, however, soon hit a wall.

My staff has been told that a person does not wish to, or have to, speak to my disease investigators," said Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert, the county's health commissioner on July 1. Of those that were contacted about the party, she added: "They hang up. They deny being at the party even though we have their names from another party attendee."

Frustrated by the response, county officials issued subpoenas to the eight people who, they were told, were at the June 17 party. Those who do not comply and share what they know by Thursday will face fines of $2,000 a day, officials said.

In addition to the June 17 party, officials said they had learned there were two other recent large parties nearby where some guests might have overlapped, heightening the risk of a wider transmission. Both parties were in New City, not far from West Nyack — one on June 20; the other on June 27. Both New City and West Nyack are in the town of Clarkstown.

Adding to the urgency, officials said they received a tip from people who have cooperated about at least one more large party being planned in the area — for the Fourth of July weekend.

"I will not allow the health of our county to be compromised because of ignorance, stupidity or obstinance, or anything else," Ed Day, the Rockland County executive, said at a news conference, where Dr. Ruppert also spoke.

Tracking down everyone who has had contact with an infected person is considered crucial to containing the spread of an illness, but is difficult. In New York City, where 3,000 disease detectives and case monitors had recently been hired, data shows that only two in every five people who tested positive for the virus (or presumed to have it) shared information about close contacts.

Rockland County has recorded just over 13,600 confirmed virus cases and 668 deaths since the outbreak began. As evidence for why precautions must still be taken, Dr. Ruppert cited the recent surge in cases in states that reopened more quickly than New York.

And while she urged those who had not cooperated with investigators so far to think of older relatives and younger siblings who might be more susceptible to the virus's worst effects, she also had a message for the party-goers themselves.

"You may wish to be invincible, but you're not," she said. "None of us are against this dreadful disease."

Next: Local public health workers report hostile threats, fears about contact tracing

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