Health officials in one New York County issued subpoenas to eight people after they refused to cooperate in the contact tracing of the coronavirus cluster tied to a party.
It worked: All eight partygoers responded to the subpoenas, avoiding possible fines of $2,000 per day from Rockland County, the first known county in the state to resort to legal action amid this public health emergency.
The party in mid-June was hosted by someone who was sick with coronavirus at the time, Rockland County Executive Ed Day told USA TODAY on Thursday. The host was symptomatic but held the party anyway, which included 50 to 100 young adults, Day said.
Although Day said the health department is identifiable by caller ID, he said the eight partygoers still did not answer calls. Those not cooperating could be suspicious of authority or afraid of being in trouble, he said.
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"We want to explain to folks we speak to that we're not looking at being in trouble," said Day. "We're just looking to know where you were so we can help out other people who we don't want to see get sick."
Rockland County Health Commissioner Patricia Schnabel Ruppert said at a Wednesday press conference that health workers tried to talk to people who tested positive after attending the party in an effort to contain the coronavirus cluster.
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“My staff has been told that a person does not wish to, or have to, speak to my disease investigators," Ruppert said. “Many do not answer their cellphones and do not call back."
In some cases, attendees had their parents answer the phone to vouch for their child's whereabouts on the day of the party. Some partygoers are suspected to have attended other sizable parties in the area.
“Large gatherings remain an issue,” Ruppert said. “The risk of transmission of the virus is high and very real.”
Rockland County has reported more than 13,600 cases of coronavirus, with 668 deaths, as of Thursday night. The county has the highest percentage of daily positive tests of all seven counties in New York's Mid-Hudson region.
"They were not answering the questions of our contact tracers," John Lyon, spokesman for the Rockland County Executive Office, told USA TODAY. "It's a very important part of this process so we can notify people and they can quarantine as a precaution so they don't spread this to other people beyond that immediate circle."
The county also used subpoenas during a measles outbreak last year and found success in tracing the outbreak, leading to a countywide vaccination mandate for the disease, officials said.