A flight from New York’s JFK Airport to LAX in March contained a man who was infected with the coronavirus, yet health officials failed to notify the flight’s passengers and crew that they were at risk, according to a report out Sunday.
The passenger was a retired Manhattan surgeon who flew in first class and was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center the next day with a high fever and phlegmy cough, according to the Los Angeles Times. Before that, however, the virus spread among people he had come in contact with in the hours after leaving LAX, including at a Westside assisted living facility where a 32-year-old nurse and a dozen others later died, the newspaper reported.
Health officials are supposed to inform the U.S. Centers for Disease Control when they know of such cases so “contact tracing” — the process of notifying anyone who might be at risk of the virus — can begin, but a CDC official told the Times that no such notice was given regarding the flight from JFK.
Officials with the Los Angeles County Health Department told the Times that their contact tracers closed the JFK case after they were unable to reach the surgeon for an interview.
“In March, whenever Public Health was aware that an individual traveled on an airline while potentially infectious with COVID-19, it notified the CDC,” the department said.
The retired surgeon, 69, flew here on March 19 so he could move into the Silverado Beverly Place, a dementia-care residence on the edge of the Fairfax District. Prior to the flight, he had been discharged from a New York City hospital, the Times reported.
There was little attempt to quarantine him from other residents once he got to the Silverado from the airport, according to three employees who recalled him eating dinner in the company of other residents shortly after his arrival.
The nurse assigned to welcome him, Brittany Bruner-Ringo, later told her mother, sister and a colleague that the man had a fever and a cough when he arrived, according to the Times. The Silverado denied that and said medical records prepared by the nurse show he had no symptoms.
The next day, the doctor had a temperature of 101.9 and a “productive cough,” according to medical records. He was rushed to the hospital, where he tested positive for COVID-19 — the disease caused by the coronavirus.
The Times also reported that no notice was given to passengers and crew on a March 8 flight from Seoul to LAX that contained a woman with the virus who later became the first confirmed COVID-19 death in L.A. County.
The county health department told the newspaper that officials informed a CDC office at LAX about the South Korean flight. The woman died shortly after arriving in Southern California, and a public health official contacted her daughter for help reconstructing her mother’s final interactions.
A contact tracer asked for the couple’s flight number and even requested her seat assignment. But no health authorities contacted Asiana Airlines to get the flight manifest or the CDC’s Korean counterpart, spokespersons for both organizations told the Times.
“This flight is not in our contact investigation database, and CDC did not receive inquiries about this flight,” a CDC spokesman told the Times.
The county health department insisted that officials “notified CDC Quarantine Station at LAX as per protocol for potential follow-up.”
The Times story says reporters asked for documentation of the notification, but the county did not provide any.
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