Thousands of New York City residents have been quarantined over concerns that they may have been infected with the strain of coronavirus, formally known as COVID-19, as city officials dial up their response to the outbreak.
According to a Thursday update from Mayor Bill de Blasio's office, the city's department of health was monitoring 2,773 people in "home isolation" as of that morning, and some of those under observation could face fines and even jail time if they leave their homes, according to the New York Post.
Some of those under observation are voluntarily quarantined, while others are under mandatory quarantine orders. When it comes to enforcing mandatory quarantines, New York City Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot explained at a Thursday news conference alongside de Blasio, "the powers that we have could include the police powers that we have; no one wants it to come to that."
So far, however, the commissioner also explained that "there hasn't been anyone on mandatory quarantine that has tried to, the term of art is 'elope,'" and added "as the Department of Health, we have taken every measure possible to make it as easy as possible for these individuals to remain in quarantine," which includes communicating with them on a daily basis.
Compliance for those mandatory quarantines are enforced by "disease detectives" performing spot checks on patients a couple of times per week, Deputy Health Commissioner Demetre Daskalakis explained at the news conference.
"And so we really are in effect case managing them from a distance and then also spot checking them to make sure that they're compliant," Daskalakis said.
According to the Post, some of the thousands of people being monitored for the virus could face fines or jail time if they leave their homes. While there is no penalty for breaking a voluntary quarantine, the newspaper explains, violating a mandatory quarantine could come with fines ranging from $200 and $2,000 per day in the city. In addition, a mandatory quarantine violation that puts public health in immediate danger could result in arrest and prosecution for a misdemeanor.
When asked how many of the current quarantines mandatory, rather than voluntary, Barbot listed a couple who recently returned from virus-hit Iran, as well as "a number that changes on a daily basis in terms of returning passengers from the five affected countries, China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, and now Japan."
A woman who returned from Iran with her husband last week marked the city's first case of COVID-19 after the wife tested positive for it, officials announced Sunday. City health officials confirmed the city's first case of community spread Tuesday after a attorney who commutes to Manhattan for work contracted the virus. De Blasio also cautioned that as the virus outbreak progresses, more stringent quarantine measures will likely be necessary.
"I think a good way to think of this is we are climbing a ladder right now," De Blasio said when asked by a reporter about the consequences of people not following the rules when instructed to quarantine. While "we do see very good results on a voluntary level and we do see overall dynamics in the city," with the prospect of more virus cases "we're going to get more and more mandatory as needed."
The news comes as the virus continues to spread through the United States and the rest of the world. On Thursday, Maryland became the latest state to announce confirmed cases of the disease. As of Friday morning, numbers from Johns Hopkins University said there were over 100,000 global cases of the disease and that there had been over 3,400 deaths.