Nassau County health officials said Wednesday that they have placed 83 Americans who recently returned to New York from China in self-quarantine due to concerns they were exposed to the new coronavirus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notified local officials that a plane was carrying Nassau County residents with "potential exposure" to the virus, Nassau County Health Commissioner Dr. Lawrence Eisenstein told reporters. Potential exposure, in this case, means that they had traveled to China in the past 14 days.
"It is our job to, within 24 hours of receiving this notice, reach out to them ... to let them know we are asking them to isolate themselves," Eisenstein said. He added that because "almost all" of the returnees are Nassau County residents, "in most cases" they are voluntarily quarantined at home.
For 14 days, he said, "we expect them to remove themselves from other people including their family members."
Since Jan. 31, when the Trump administration declared the outbreak a public health emergency in the U.S., Americans across the country who have returned from China have been asked to self-quarantine. This voluntary quarantine stands in contrast to federal mandatory quarantine orders, which have been issued to Americans returning from Hubei province, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak.
While the quarantine remains voluntary, Eisenstein added that, "If somebody were not compliant we would take next steps."
Eisenstein said that health officials visit those in self-quarantine daily to check their temperature and monitor them for symptoms. However, no officials will enforce the quarantine or ensure that the subjected individuals are remaining in their homes.
If those in quarantine exhibit any symptoms, including a cough or fever, Eisenstein said that local officials will test them for the virus. Of the 83 currently being monitored, Eisenstein said Nassau County has tested seven of them. Five tested negative, he said, and one is pending. One more was "disqualified," but Eisenstein did not explain why that test was disqualified.
For the test that is still pending, Eisenstein said local officials sent the sample to the CDC "Sunday night, maybe Monday morning." He added that it is not known when they will receive the results.
As U.S. health officials stepped up calls this week for the public to prepare for a possible pandemic outbreak in the U.S., some have raised concerns over state and local capacity to test for the virus. Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters earlier this week that there are about a dozen state and local laboratories that can run the test. The rest, she said, are sent to CDC in Atlanta.
Earlier in the outbreak, the CDC sent test kits to public health labs around the country. But the CDC later said those test kits were problematic and might not deliver accurate results. On Tuesday, Messonnier said that the CDC was "working to modify the kit and hope to send out a new" one soon.