Staying isolated in your bedroom. Using a bathroom that’s only used by you. Texting your temperature to health officials.
That’s life for the approximately 116 Erie County residents under 14-day voluntary quarantine due to the new coronavirus. Those quarantined don’t necessarily have the virus — no one in Erie County has tested positive thus far — but they are being monitored due to recent travel history or because they’ve been in contact with someone who does have the virus, as per U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
“We are trying to ensure that all those individuals who went to those areas of high risk or high concern are quarantined,” said Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gail Burstein during a news conference Wednesday, “and then we'll evaluate them and if they have clinical symptoms that meet the criteria for testing, then we’ll ensure that the appropriate testing is done.”
Most are quarantined at their own homes, although the county health officials declined to say exactly how many. They’re restricted to one specific room or area of the home, and should have food delivered to their room and use a bathroom that’s not used by anyone else. They can go out into their backyard, as long as they stay six feet away from anyone else.
“And when somebody is quarantined, it's not just a matter of staying wherever they are, locked up for 14 days,” Burstein said. “We really want to monitor them on a daily basis to ensure they don't develop any signs and symptoms of infection.”
Those quarantined are asked to take their temperature twice a day and send a picture of their temperature log to the county health department. They’ll receive a phone call from county health officials once a day. The county has also provided them with a mental health tip sheet.
The quarantines are voluntary, but could be made mandatory if someone refuses. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said Burstein could make a commissioner's order for quarantine, posting a sheriff’s deputy outside the quarantined person’s home. The quarantined person could then be prosecuted for leaving.
Breaking such a mandatory quarantine could lead to a fine.
“I'm hopeful that we never get to a situation where we have to force a quarantine on an individual and have a guard stationed outside the house to ensure that that person is not a potential risk to the community,” Poloncarz said. “But my God, if we have to, we will.”
While 116 county residents were in quarantine as of Friday, another 31 county residents had already completed their quarantine protocol.
After initially facing criticism over a lack of transparency, county officials announced Friday they will update the number of quarantined individuals weekly on the county website.