Months after the lower Hudson Valley became the first epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., Rockland County officials say a new COVID-19 cluster has emerged after a person who was ill with the virus held a party in June. COVID has since spread, and the county health commissioner says partygoers have not been cooperating with contact tracing. And officials are promising enforcement July Fourth weekend as they find out about more parties.
Rockland County Health Commissioner Dr. Patricia Ruppert says COVID has spread to at least eight others after the Clarkstown party host was symptomatic and held the party anyway. Now her office is racing to stop the spread.
“We are not receiving the necessary cooperation when we contact those who are positive for COVID-19 or those who have been at some of these gatherings,” Ruppert says. “My staff has been told that a person does not wish to or have to speak to my disease investigators. They hang up .They deny being at the party, even though we have found their name from another party attendee, or a parent provides us with the information. Many do not answer their cell phones and do not call back. Sometimes parents answer for their adult children and promise that they have been home consistently when they have not been.”
“Unfortunately, I am now forced by these circumstances to send subpoenas to the individuals who are required to cooperate with us,” Ruppert says.
So far, eight subpoenas have been sent. Republican Rockland County Executive Ed Day says Ruppert was simply asking for cooperation.
“Nobody is in trouble. Nobody who has been at a party is going to have a major issue. There is no problem with this,” says Day. “It’s a matter of information. That information is critically important to the health and safety of our county.”
However, if the young adults, who Ruppert says are in their 20s, continue to skirt phone calls and inquiries, Day says the county will up the ante.
“I don’t care you are, who you know, how much money you make, where you live or anything along those lines. If you get in the way of a health department investigation, I will take, and we will take, every step necessary to ensure that we respond appropriately. And we’re talking a serious response — $2,000 a day violations, to start. We will make continued visits, and every time you violate, we will hit you with another $2,000 fine,” Day says. “We are deadly serious. I will not allow to have the health of our county compromised because of ignorance, stupidity or obstinance, or anything else, for that matter.”
“And if the health department calls, answer the phone,” Ruppert says.
Ruppert appealed to young adults who think they are invincible.
“Please, please cooperate. I am speaking especially to the younger adults now,” Ruppert says. “Your assistance in our case investigations can make the difference between life and death of your loved ones.”
And she has a warning about the holiday weekend.
“We have heard that people are planning to celebrate for Fourth of July, especially those who have been involved in this cluster of cases, if you can believe that,” says Ruppert. “Not only is this a violation of the isolation and quarantine that is required, but is a serious risk to friends and to family who come to celebrate with you.”
Day says Clarkstown officials will be keeping an eye out for anyone flouting social distancing and other pandemic rules.
“And I have been assured by the supervisor, the Clarkstown Police Department will be responding to any location we believe will be having a house party the Fourth of July. Strict enforcement will be the order of the day,” says Day. “The governor’s orders will be enforced, the social distancing and face, face mask covering. Underage drinking will not be tolerated. Parents who are in the house with underage drinking are subject to fine and arrest.”
He and Ruppert spoke about the Clarkstown COVID cluster during a previously scheduled fireworks safety press conference in Pomona. Meantime, across the river, Democratic Westchester County Executive George Latimer said Tuesday the number of positive COVID-19 cases from an outbreak at graduation events in Chappaqua was up to 19. Latimer says the cases likely derived from a party held after the drive-in graduation.