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Infectious disease specialist says containment of coronavirus needs to be more aggressive

Doctor: JetBlue passengers should self quarantine
Dr. Leslie Diaz, an infectious disease specialist in northern Palm Beach County
Posted at 11:00 PM, Mar 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-13 00:36:15-04

NORTH PALM BEACH, Fla. — Dr. Leslie Diaz, an infectious disease specialist in northern Palm Beach County, questions what instructions a passenger who boarded a flight to Palm Beach International Airport was given about travel after taking a test for coronavirus.

Passengers aboard Flight 253 say they were told to go home and monitor themselves by a health department representative. It's a decision that Diaz says is concerning.

"I think that is not very good practice. I think they should at least have been told minimum, self quarantine yourself for 14 days. Because it's a way of containing that individual, and again, maybe not the whole plane, maybe not the person who was sitting in the back row way far from, or in the front row way far from this patient, but in close proximity, let's say 6 feet from the patient," said Diaz.

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Coronavirus

Diaz says she has suspected the virus rapid rate of infection suggests it could be airborne. Recent reports reveal tests led by U.S. government scientists show the virus can live in the air for several hours and on surfaces for up to three days, even though researchers say it does not prove anyone has been infected this way.

Still, Diaz believes passengers closest to the infected man should have been given more direction.

"If we quarantine cruise ships, why are we not doing the same for planes in this particular situation? And it wasn't done. That's worrisome because each individual that was in his close proximity to that patient now has been exposed," said Diaz.

EXTENDED INTERVIEW: Infectious disease specialist in northern Palm Beach County shares insight to coronavirus, questions handling of JetBlue flight with patient (22 minutes)

Passengers say the man infected wasn't coughing and did wear a mask.

JetBlue released a statement saying passengers who are sick and believe they may have coronavirus or awaiting test results should not travel until cleared by a doctor.

The airline says it was not notified by the passenger about the pending coronavirus test and has banned the infected passenger from flying with the airline.

At the FoundCare Center in North Palm Beach, Diaz showed the plastic test tubes and sterile swab kit being used to test for coronavirus. She says getting the supplies hasn't been an obstacle, but what has been is learning what to do with the samples.

MORE: JetBlue passenger self quarantines after arriving at PBIA with coronavirus passenger

"You have to package it correctly, and that's what's missing, guidance. How to package it, to send it to Quest, how to package it to send it to LabCorp. Now is when they are giving us the direction how to do it," she said.

Diaz says there are also challenges when it comes to testing patients that don't meet the requirements to test for COVID-19 but are sick and want to rule it out.

"The problem is if a patient is designated as not meeting all the criteria to test, but you want to test them anyways, right now you have to have an account with Quest or LabCorp in order to be able to send it to them. They have to work out the kinks of pricing and the codes and that's going at a pace of a turtle," added Diaz.