An Oyster Bay man is seeing firsthand what it’s like to be quarantined because of exposure to the coronavirus. Charles, who preferred not to use his real name, was exposed to someone who tested positive for the virus on Feb. 26, while on a flight from Tampa to New York.
Charles, who had no symptoms, first learned of his exposure on March 3, when his wife told him he had received a letter from the Nassau County Department of Health requesting that he contact the agency. He called that evening, having just returned from another trip, he said. When he called, he was referred to an on-call public-health nurse.
“I got a call right back,” Charles said in a phone interview. “The nurse told me I was sitting next to somone who tested positive. Turns out, she said, the person was patient zero, the attorney from New Rochelle.”
The attorney, Lawrence Garbuz, was misdiagnosed with pneumonia on Feb. 28 at New York-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital in Bronxville. To the doctors there, his travel and exposure history did not warrant that he be tested for the coronavirus. When his condition worsened, however, he was taken to New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center in Manhattan, where he was diagnosed with it on March 3.
The call from the Health Department surprised Charles because, he said, no one appeared to be sick on the Tampa-to-New York flight. And no one wore masks or coughed that he could recall.
The nurse told Charles to self-quarantine and take his temperature twice a day, in the morning and at night, and to email the results to the Health Department. He was also advised to report symptoms that included coughing or shortness of breath.
The nurse told him to stay at least six feet away from others, sleep in a separate room from his wife, and stay away from young children. (They couple do not have any.)His wife was allowed to leave the house.
“I can work from home, but did have to cancel a trip,” he said. “I do travel often for work. I’ve stayed home the entire time, and I didn’t want to worry anyone, so I haven’t told a lot of people.”
Charles said that a nurse called him every day to see how he was doing. Then, on Monday, he noticed two people outside his house. “It was a nice day, so I had my front door open and could see them,” he said. “I waved to them, and they looked shocked and quickly dropped a letter in my mailbox and walked as fast as they could to their car, which indicated that they worked for the Department of Health.”
He had only two days left in his quarantine. The letter informed him that he was now on a mandatory quarantine. “I was irritated,” he said. “The letter was an order for isolation, quarantine and restriction. It said I was an immanent peril to the safety of the people of New York, and it ordered me to stay home.”
He wondered why he had been upgraded from voluntary to mandatory quarantine. Charles emailed a request to the Health Department to be tested for the virus, but was denied, because he did not have any symptoms.
When he called the department on Tuesday, he was told that he was on voluntary quarantine until Wednesday night, information that conflicted with the letter he had received. He was promised a release letter. Then the phone rang again.
“A man said, ‘I’m outside in a car. Can you verify that I’m outside your house?’” Charles recounted. “‘Please open your door.’ I did, and waved to him, and off he went.”
On Wednesday another representative from the Health Department called, saying he was outside, and gave Charles the same instructions.
Nothing had changed on Thursday, although he has called the department two or three times a day. “Since Wednesday they seem to be busier, and the phones aren’t being answered like before,” he said. “I keep leaving messages with the call center, and they keep telling me that a nurse will call me, but no one ever does.”
Charles said he wants to follow the Health Department’s protocol. He will stay home until he receives the letter from the department indicating that he is released. Charles said he hopes that will be soon.