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A Brooklyn physician who couldn’t get tested for coronavirus has been cleared to work after a top city doctor told him he likely had COVID-19 — but deemed him no longer contagious or in need of a test.
The doctor, who spoke with THE CITY on the condition of anonymity, began experiencing a persistent dry cough about three weeks ago and tried repeatedly to get a test, while he continued seeing patients. He said he was variously told he was ineligible or that no tests were available.
After THE CITY reported on his situation, Mayor Bill de Blasio arranged Thursday to have him speak with Dr. Theodore Long, vice president of ambulatory care for the city Health & Hospitals Corporation.
Meanwhile, a doctor in residence at a Queens hospital has tested positive for COVID-19 — the disease caused by coronavirus, according to Dr. Arthur C. Fougner, president of the Medical Society of the State of New York.
Fougner would not identify the facility where the doctor works other than to say it’s a “major hospital” in the borough. He added that the doctor remained hospitalized.
City officials declined to comment on the report of a doctor testing positive, and an HHC spokesperson had no comment on Long’s conversation with the Brooklyn doctor.
A spokesperson for HHC said Friday that the city’s public hospitals follow state guidelines, which allow health care workers who’ve displayed symptoms of COVID-19 to return to work after seven days, a period which can be extended depending on the symptoms.
Workers who interact with those who’ve tested positive can continue working, though all staff are required to “self-monitor” for signs of fever or dry cough. Temperatures are taken at the start of each shift.
‘Past Contagious Period’
The general practitioner said he told Long he’d experienced symptoms for about two weeks, but that they had dissipated in recent days. Long, he said, told him his symptoms and timeline indicated he was probably positive for COVID-19 — but no longer contagious since he’s asymptomatic.
“Now it’s way past the contagious period,” the doctor said Long told him.
Over the last three weeks, the Brooklyn doctor says two of his patients who showed up with symptoms ultimately tested positive for COVID-19, while three others are awaiting test results.
He says “it would have been nice” if he’d been tested when he’d first asked. “Then I would have been able to drop out of the picture and not pass it on.”
In an interview with THE CITY, Fougner says the Brooklyn doctor should have been tested when he first asked.
“Not just doctors, but all health care workers, especially if they’re displaying symptoms, you should certainly send a doctor for testing,” he said. “We’re fighting a war. You sort of want the doctors to be victors, not vectors.”
He questioned the logic of deeming the doctor a positive without a test and without looking back at his interaction with patients.
“If in fact he has been positive, you have to find out all the people he’s been in touch with,” Fougner said. “It is in the interests of public health to learn more about not only this physician and to contact patients and make sure there’s any positive there. We need to follow up who their contacts are.”
“This is not public health anymore,” he added. “This is crazy.”
At the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene was making a point of having “disease detectives” search for all “close contacts” of anyone testing positive. But as the numbers have grown, that task appears to have become a far greater challenge.
Since the first New York City resident tested positive March 1, the number of such cases has risen to 3,954, with 26 fatalities as of Friday morning. As of Thursday, 554 people with COVID-19 remained hospitalized in the city.
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