Rockland County in upstate New York is threatening to issue subpoenas to residents who are refusing to cooperate with coronavirus contact tracing efforts, following the appearance of a new cluster of cases.
This is the first time that the county, and possibly any local New York government, has threatened legal action against residents who may have been exposed to coronavirus. The cluster was attributed to a party held in the village of Clarkstown on June 13, when the host of the party was already infected and exhibiting coronavirus symptoms. At least eight new cases have been traced back to the event, which was attended by 50 to 100 people in their early 20’s.
Local officials also said that they were aware of people who attended the party who were refusing to self-quarantine. The eight young adults infected at the party are currently refusing to discuss their subsequent movements with contact tracers who are attempting to stem the outbreak.
“We don’t really know why they’re not cooperating with us,” John Lyon, spokesman for the Rockland County Executive Office, told National Review by phone. “We haven’t heard anyone specifically cite privacy as their concern to this.”
Lyon said some parents of young adults who health officials know attended the party, have also refused to admit that their children were in attendance.
“There may be a misconception that they [will] get into trouble for it, but really, the only way to get in trouble is to not talk to us,” Lyon said.
In addition to subpoenas, the county may slap fines of $2,000 per day on partygoers who do not cooperate with health workers.
“We are deadly serious,” Rockland County Executive Ed Day, a Republican, said of the contact tracing efforts at a press conference.
The county used subpoenas in 2019 to force families to vaccinate their children against measles. That year saw a measles outbreak across the U.S. with a large cluster of 225 patients in Rockland, which led health officials to mandate measles vaccinations county-wide. Local officials also forbid families from sending unvaccinated children to schools during the outbreak.
Lyon said the county is using the same contact tracing program established during the measles outbreak to contain the spread of coronavirus. Additionally, Lyon noted that the use of subpoeanas in that outbreak was successful in compelling residents to obtain vaccinations for their children.
Rockland has seen 668 deaths from coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic. The county is set to implement Phase 3 of New York’s reopening plan on Wednesday, allowing indoor dining at restaurants at up to 50 percent capacity and opening spas and nail salons.