26 hospital workers sidelined after exposure to Orange County's first coronavirus case

Goshen. The county's first patient is in Montefiore St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital in isolation, officials say. In a March 12 conference call with the press, hospital and county officials said they were fully prepared and would not say what measures they will take to prevent so many of their hospital workers from going into a two-week quarantine going forward.

Goshen /
12 Mar 2020 | 05:53

Montefiore St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital says 26 of its workers have been furloughed after possible exposure to the first Orange County resident to test positive for the novel coronavirus.

A conference call for the press was held Thursday afternoon with Dr. Irina Gelman, the county health commissioner; Justin Rodriquez, the spokesperson for the county executive; and Daniel Maughan, senior vice president and chief operating officer at Montefiore St. Luke's Cornwall Hospital in Newburgh.

Maughan said St. Luke's is fully prepared, and was fully prepared when the first positive case presented at the hospital. But none of the officials on the call would explain what might have been done differently to prevent so many hospital workers from being sidelined during a pandemic. None would say what would be done going forward to prevent more health care workers from going into quarantine, which lasts two weeks.

The Chronicle pressed Gelman to answer these questions in a call after the press conference. She grew angry and said the paper should be "responsible" in its reporting. She hung up without answering the question.

Kate Dabroski, the public relations officer for Montefiore St. Luke’s Cornwall, sent The Chronicle the following emailed response on Thursday evening: "Montefiore St. Luke’s Cornwall (MSLC) has followed all current protocols from the CDC, New York State Department of Health and the Orange County Department of Health. The patient was appropriately screened and isolated as necessary, following the current guidelines. MSLC has proceeded with an abundance of caution relating to any staff exposure and the number of healthcare worker exposures has already decreased from what was reported earlier today. As always, we are proceeding in a manner that ensures the highest level of caution for our patients, visitors and staff and we will continue to follow the guidance of the CDC and Department of Health.

"We will not be releasing any information relating to the individual patient. Please be considerate that this is an emerging public health situation and irresponsible reporting of false information is a disservice to the communities we are privileged to serve."

People in quarantine are not necessarily infected. Dr. Gelman said in the press conference that during each quarantine, the person is tested twice for the virus. The quarantine ends after 14 days if both tests are negative, she said.

Gelman would not put an exact number on how many people people in Orange County are now under self-quarantine, but said it was "under 100 and over a dozen." She did not give a number regarding how many tests have so far been administered in the county. Gelman said tests are "offered" to all health care providers.

At a county roundtable held on March 6, Gelman, a podiatrist, stressed that people who suspect they may have been infected with coronavirus should call their medical provider first. If a visit to a hospital or clinic is needed, the facility would then be prepared to protect staff and patients at the facility. In the March 12 conference call, officials would not say whether Orange County's first coronavirus patient called ahead, or whether the patient works at the hospital or is otherwise associated with the hospital.

The patient is now at Montefiore St. Luke’s Cornwall in isolation, Gelman said. The officials would not give the patient's name, gender, age, or current condition.

Maughan said Montefiore St. Luke’s Cornwall follows updated protocols from the federal Centers for Disease Control. When a possible case of coronavirus presents at the hospital, the patient is immediately put into isolation and tested to rule out other respiratory illnesses. If other illnesses are ruled out, the patient is then swabbed and tested for coronavirus. Gelman said results are available in five to six hours.

Gelman said people have been asking for "random tests" without being symptomatic. She said this was a problem that put others at risk. Tests need to be reserved for high-risk people who have symptoms, who have had exposure, and who otherwise meet CDC criteria.

"Just because someone wants a test doesn't mean their condition warrants it," she said.

Her advice for those who are exhibiting coronavirus symptoms is, "Stay home and call your local provider."

"This is a very rapidly developing situation," she said.

Editor's note: This story has been updated from the original to include the response from Montefiore St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital. Please check back for updates.

Tips to stay safe:
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially before eating.
Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
Stay home when you are sick.
Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
Stay up to date by visiting ny.gov/coronavirus.
Source: New York State Department of Health: ny.gov/coronavirus