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Health officials: Over 100 people on Long Island monitored for coronavirus risk

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said at a news conference Wednesday that the county does not have any confirmed coronavirus cases, but is prepared to handle any possible outbreaks. Credit: Howard Schnapp

More than 100 people on Long Island are being monitored for coronavirus, health officials said Wednesday, as Nassau County awaits test results on one person who showed symptoms of the virus.

There are no confirmed cases of the coronavirus, known as COVID-19, in New York State, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said. But a Nassau County resident is quarantined at home until the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention complete testing on a sample from that individual, according to state Health Department Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker.

The unidentified Long Islander is the only person in the state who hasn’t yet been determined to be free of the potentially deadly virus that has spread to every continent except Antarctica. The virus has sickened more than 81,000 people and killed more than 2,700 around the globe, according to the World Health Organization.

Zucker said the reason for the delay in results is the high volume of cases being handled only by the CDC.

Nassau Health Commissioner Lawrence Eisenstein said there have been five people who tested negative for coronavirus. Incoming Suffolk County Health Commissioner Gregson Pigott said there have been no suspected cases in that county to date.

“This is a brand-new virus to us,” Eisenstein told reporters Wednesday during a news conference. “We’re learning new things every day. And I still don’t have the answers to many of the questions that you might ask about the pathophysiology of the virus and things like what is the known incubation period.”

The 112 Long Island people — 83 from Nassau and 29 from Suffolk — being monitored had recently traveled to China, where the COVID-19 outbreak first surfaced about two months ago. Even though they are not showing symptoms and have not been tested, the people being monitored are considered to have “potential exposure” and are asked to isolate themselves from the general public and their family, as a precaution, for two weeks.

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The county health departments receive a list from the CDC of people who have returned from China. Their staff reaches out to them to interview them.

“We validate the people on the list,” Eisenstein said. “We educate them as to the fact that for 14 days from their last potential exposure to the virus, we expect them to remove themselves from other people, including their family members. We help them do that, if they don’t understand what we need.”

Eisenstein said the county checks in every day with the individuals to determine their temperature and deliver thermometers, if needed, and to make sure they don’t have a fever.

Pigott said the Suffolk County Health Department also checks in with people who are being monitored to see if symptoms develop over the two-week period.

Suffolk plans to conduct an exercise involving several agencies to test its response systems in the case of an outbreak.

“The idea is to stay on top of the situation and be proactive, not reactive,” Pigott said.

Speaking at a news conference, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran encouraged people to get flu shots and said the health department “prepares for this sort of thing all year-round.” She said a medical reserve core of 1,000 volunteers and medical professionals are on call for various situations.

Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of division of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, said both Nassau and Suffolk county agencies have had experience with health emergencies, such as the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, known as swine flu.

“Hospitals have preparedness plans, they know how to put patients in isolation they have had drills,” Nachman said. “There are action plans ready to be used … We don’t want people to worry.”

Nachman said people concerned about exposure can do their part by letting medical professionals know if they have fallen sick after traveling. And she suggested people follow common-sense rules such as staying away from people who are ill, washing their hands regularly and staying home when they fall sick.

According to the CDC, there are 59 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States and no fatalities. The agency estimates the seasonal flu has caused 29 million illnesses, 280,000 hospitalizations and 16,000 deaths.

“At this point you, should be more concerned about the common cold or flu virus,” Pigott said.

With Michael Gormley

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