New York county issues subpoenas to people refusing to talk to contact tracers

New York county issues subpoenas to people refusing to talk to contact tracers
© Getty

Officials in New York’s Rockland County said Wednesday they are being forced to issue subpoenas to compel people to speak to contact tracers about a coronavirus outbreak because they are not speaking voluntarily. 

The county’s health commissioner, Patricia Rupert, said at a news conference that subpoenas are being issued to eight people who were infected at a recent party in Clarkstown, N.Y., north of New York City, but who are refusing to cooperate with contact tracers seeking to interview them to determine who else they were in contact with and could be at risk of spreading the virus. 

The drastic step of issuing subpoenas in a contact-tracing investigation illustrates a problem officials have cited around the country, that many people are not answering their phones or cooperating when contact tracers try to talk to them. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Public health officials say contact tracing is a key step in slowing the spread of the coronavirus. The process interviews infected people about who they have been in contact with so that those people can be notified and asked to quarantine for 14 days to prevent further spread of the virus. 

Rupert said the host of the party in question was symptomatic with coronavirus but held the party anyway. At least eight people have been infected and officials are trying to figure out if more were exposed. 

“We are not receiving the necessary cooperation when we contact those who are positive for COVID-19 or those who had been at some of these gatherings,” Rupert said. “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,” she added. “Sometimes parents answer for their adult children and promise that they have been home consistently, when they have not been. This must stop.”

The frustrations have now led to subpoenas, she said. 

“Unfortunately I am now forced by these circumstances to send subpoenas to the individuals who are required to cooperate with us,” Rupert said. “Failure to comply will be costly: $2,000 per day.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Ed Day, the county executive, added that officials are not looking to get anyone into trouble, only to speak to them to find out who else might be infected to help slow the spread of the virus. 

“We want people to do the right thing for their neighbors,” and voluntarily speak to health officials, he said, but are resorting to subpoenas when that did not happen. 

He said he will not “have the health of our county compromised because of ignorance, stupidity, or obstinance.”