Faced with $2,000-a-day fines, eight people connected with a COVID-19 cluster in Clarkstown became cooperative with contact tracers seeking to stop the outbreak from spreading.
Subpoenas went out Wednesday afternoon after the Rockland County Health Department met resistance from people who attended a West Nyack party that was the first in a series of gatherings that were the source of nine coronavirus cases.
Six of the people had responded by the end of the day and two others on Thursday. All eight had been at the party where the cluster started. No fines were issued, said county spokesman John Lyon.
“It’s amazing how smart some people got” after the subpoenas were issued, Rockland County Executive Ed Day said during an interview on CNN on Thursday afternoon.
Now contact tracers are following the trail to locate whoever else may have been exposed.
The nine people in their early 20s tested positive in an outbreak that started at a large June 17 party in West Nyack hosted by a person who was already experiencing symptoms. Then came parties in New City on June 20 and 27, according to the health department.
None of those infected have been hospitalized, but Rockland Health Commissioner Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert would not comment on the severity of their symptoms.
‘Not looking to be punitive’
When asked why people initially declined to cooperate with health workers, Ruppert told CNN on Thursday that people “don’t want to answer to government,” and “don’t understand the importance” of the health information.
“We try to be understanding,” Ruppert said. “We try to understand where they’re coming from.”
But, Ruppert said, the county would crack down. “It comes to the point where we have to do what we have to do for public health.”
Ruppert said timeliness in contact tracing is “paramount.” People can transmit the virus 48 hours before showing symptoms, Ruppert said, so those who are exposed need to know it.
There are valid reasons why we need this information,” Ruppert said on CNN. “We’re not looking to be punitive in any regard, we’re looking to protect people.”
County officials on Wednesday said some of the people connected with the three gatherings were considering violating quarantine orders and holding their own parties or attending others over the holiday weekend.
“If the health department calls, answer the phone,” Ruppert said Wednesday. “I am speaking especially to the younger adults now. Your assistance in our case investigations can make the difference between life and death of your loved ones.”
Rockland County Legislature Chairman Alden H. Wolfe said it “defies common sense to attend large crowded parties,” adding that ignoring calls from contact tracers after a diagnosis has been made is “reckless and dangerous.”
‘No spike in Clarkstown’
Clarkstown Supervisor George Hoehmann said his police department had not responded to a medical call involving a coronavirus patient for 11 days, indicating cases were not trending upward.
“The numbers don’t indicate any spike in Clarkstown,” Hoehmann said. “We are consistently seeing one or two positives a day from data being shared with town from the health department.”
Hoehmann added: “While the numbers are significantly lower, there’s a tendency for people to think that the crisis is over and it’s not. … If you’re going have a gathering, you have to follow the guidelines” that impose a 25-person limit.
The supervisor also complained that the health department had not been providing addresses and information to the town regarding the June parties.
“We’ve been told several of the folks are having parties this weekend,” Hoehmann said. “(The county) needs to share it with the town so we can enforce.”
Hoehmann is urging continued compliance and precautions by town residents. He said the Clarkstown police would respond to any instance of large gatherings that do not follow social distancing mandates.
Robert Brum is a Rockland County-based reporter and editor. For subscriber-only Rockland County news, visit offers.lohud.com to sign up for a subscription. To subscribe to The Rockland Angle, a nightly email newsletter exclusively for Rockland County news, features and other essential information, visit lohud.com/newsletters, check the Rockland Angle” box and submit your email address.
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