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A New York City public school teacher who vacationed in Italy during the February winter break is set to undergo testing after experiencing possible coronavirus symptoms.
The teacher told THE CITY she spent several days last week in a classroom with children before she showed any signs of potential infection.
The teacher sought a coronavirus test on Monday after contacting a state hotline, but reported being turned down by a doctor. She’s currently under self-quarantine.
After THE CITY revealed her story Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said during a coronavirus-related news conference that the teacher would soon be tested. School officials said the school where she teaches would be “deep cleaned” and city Health Department “disease detectives” would visit.
If the teacher tests positive for coronavirus, the Department of Education says all the children in her class and any educators who were in “close contact” with the woman would be tested. Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said so far there’s no indication of any students showing symptoms.
Meanwhile, four other New York City public school teachers who reported they’d traveled to coronavirus hot zones in the last few weeks and are displaying potential symptoms have reached out to their union, the United Federation of Teachers. The union told them to seek medical treatment.
Until Wednesday, the city Department of Education had issued coronavirus precautions only for educators and students who’d traveled in China.
During the news conference, de Blasio said school officials are drafting a protocol to deal with staffers who recently visited Centers for Disease Control-designated hot zones beyond China — including Italy, Iran and Japan.
“I think we would all say now there should have been a faster adjustment for the additional countries,” de Blaso said. “We’re going to get that fixed today.”
The urgency of containing coronavirus in New York was heightened Wednesday when state officials revealed that the wife and two children of a 50-year-old Westchester lawyer who’d tested positive for the illness also were infected.
One of the children, a 20-year-old son, attends Yeshiva University, while a 14-year-old daughter attends the SAR Academy in Riverdale, The Bronx. The father is in serious condition at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan while the others are in quarantine at home.
On Tuesday, Yeshiva issued a statement saying it was “disinfecting all relevant common areas,” but by Wednesday the school was temporarily shuttered. City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene inspectors were on campus to identify any “close contacts” with the student — and two such contacts had been sent to Bellevue Hospital for testing.
In a news conference Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo spelled out the effort to track down anyone who’s come in contact with the infected family as “doing the best you can to keep the circle as tight as possible.”
Late Tuesday, Success Academy, one of the city’s biggest charter schools, instructed all students and staff who’d been in CDC hot zones to “study or work from home for two weeks before returning to school.”
On Wednesday, New York City high school and college students started a petition to close down schools due to the coronavirus spread. Students at city public schools, Columbia University, New York University, the New School and Baruch College are participating.
Refused a Test
The teacher who tried to get tested was visiting the Veneto region of Italy in February, at the time the first coronavirus cases surfaced there. The teacher flew back to New York in the last week of the month and returned to the classroom, displaying no symptoms.
The educator spoke on the condition of anonymity, and THE CITY has withheld identifying details.
Soon after the teacher experienced severe headaches, a sore throat, fever and body aches. She called the state Department of Health hotline and was told to seek medical advice.
The teacher went to a hospital and told the doctor about the trip to Italy. As of Tuesday, Italy had logged more than 2,500 coronavirus cases, including at least 79 deaths. The outbreak surfaced Feb. 20 in the cities of Lombardy and Veneto, in the region that also includes Venice.
Although the teacher had been in a coronavirus hot zone and displayed the symptoms, the doctor said because she did not have a compromised immune system and was not elderly, she could not receive the required CDC test.
However, the doctor provided the teacher with a city Department of Health & Mental Hygiene letter stating that the patient needed to self-quarantine for two weeks. The teacher forwarded the letter to school officials and began the quarantine.
The teacher is not alone in facing difficulties accessing a test.
A CUNY professor described for THE CITY an ordeal that began when she and her teenage son sat next to a woman sneezing and coughing during a flight home from the San Francisco area last week. At first they felt fine, and the son went to his high school as usual.
But soon they both experienced difficulty breathing.
Because they hadn’t been in the hot zones where the virus is present, the professor was told they could not receive a CDC test. Ultimately, the high schooler returned to class after his condition improved.
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