CLAYTON — Family members of the 20-year-old Ladue woman who tested positive for coronavirus were not told to quarantine themselves, according to their attorney.
In a timeline of events, attorney Neil Bruntrager outlined several calls and texts between the woman’s mother and the St. Louis County health department from Thursday, when the woman first experienced symptoms, to Saturday, when county officials announced the positive test results at a news conference.
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said Sunday the patient’s immediate family had been told repeatedly since Thursday to quarantine at their home in Ladue. Page said the father had not followed health department instructions and took his younger daughter to a father-daughter dance on Saturday for Villa Duchesne at the Ritz-Carlton in Clayton.
Bruntrager disputed those claims, saying they were only directed to quarantine the daughter.
“These poor people are being pilloried and vilified,” he said, referring to the family of the woman. “They were being proactive. They were trying to deal with this problem.”
The father and his daughter left the dance and returned home Saturday night when they learned of the older daughter’s diagnosis. The family hasn’t left the house since, according to Bruntrager.
At a news conference on Monday, Page repeated that a family quarantine had been issued verbally.
“All of the family as part of this communication were given instructions to stay at home,” Page said.
County co-health director Spring Schmidt said she was “not going to respond specifically to their comments or the way they are sort of characterizing. I am comfortable with the way that the staff engaged with the family. There was a significant amount of contact on both sides.”
The county will be reviewing its quarantine policies and procedures, Page said.
“I don’t believe that dwelling on this accomplishes anything else other than to learn that a quarantine is serious,” Page said.
Anger and concern rippled across the St. Louis area Monday after the revelation that the father and sister of the patient had been in public while the coronavirus test was pending.
One Webster Groves resident, whose wife observed a 14-day quarantine last month after returning from China, said he was “furious.”
“How selfish can you be to just blow off the quarantine order and, of all things, go to a father-daughter dance exposing countless people to this deadly virus?” asked Ken Warren, a political scientist at St. Louis University whose ordeal was profiled in the Post-Dispatch on Feb. 21.
Warren said he and his wife, Tao Jiang Warren, had “observed this self-quarantine order 100%. We did not have any trouble observing it since we understood the risks to others if she just blew off the order and went into society.”
Page said that county health officials gave the same instructions to the Ladue family as the Warrens and any other patient under quarantine protocol for tuberculosis or other infectious diseases.
The woman diagnosed with coronavirus, who attends Indiana University, returned to St. Louis on Wednesday from a study abroad program in Milan, Italy.
She had no symptoms until Thursday, according to Bruntrager’s timeline, when she woke up with a headache and a mild sore throat but no fever. The family called a doctor friend who recommended calling the Missouri Department of Health. State officials referred them to the county health department, and they discussed getting the daughter tested because she had been in Italy, a coronavirus hot spot. There was no mandate to quarantine anyone but the daughter, which the family had already done, according to Bruntrager.
When the woman woke up Friday with a sore throat, slight chest pains and shortness of breath, her mother called a county communicable disease staffer at 9:57 a.m. Two minutes later, the staffer called back and told the family to take the student to Mercy Hospital in Creve Coeur at 11 a.m.
At Mercy, staff took nasal swabs, throat swabs, blood, saliva, urine and a chest X-ray. A doctor told them, “My gut feeling is that I don’t think she has it.” The doctor said all her tests looked good and she had no fever, but they would test for coronavirus because she had been in Milan, according to Bruntrager.
They left, with instructions that the woman stay in respiratory isolation and wear a mask when interacting with people.
It wasn’t until Sunday when health officials sat the family down and told them what to do, Bruntrager said.
Bruntrager complained about the way the family is being treated, misinformation that has been released about the family and the way the virus is being handled by officials. “To me, it absolutely exemplifies the ineptitude of how this is being handled,” he said.
A letter Sunday to the family from Schmidt said the county was “authorized” to impose a quarantine on the family under monitoring from the health department, and said the letter served as “formal notification … Please conduct yourself accordingly.”
Page said on Monday officials were convinced the family had remained home after learning about the positive test on Saturday night, and that a formal quarantine was not needed.
Officials did not identify the infected patient nor her family members, sending thousands of people to find out what they could from back channels through texts and social media. The 375 calls for information to the county health department Monday overwhelmed its call center, officials said.
Chris O’Leary, a private baseball coach whose daughter attended the dance with his adult son, said he was frustrated that her school, Villa Duchesne, did not identify the affected people to the rest of the community.
“She doesn’t know who it is,” he said. “They haven’t told people who it is, according to her. I’d just want to know if they were at the same table. Was this someone who was at my daughter’s table, or someone kind of at the back of the room?”
‘A hospital-grade cleaning’
In addition to the dance, the coronavirus patient’s younger sister attended classes at Villa Duchesne in Frontenac on Thursday and Friday, according to school spokeswoman Alice Dickherber.
The school will be closed for the week and students will return March 23 after spring break, Dickherber said.
“We also have commissioned a hospital-grade cleaning of the school which will take place this week,” reads a statement sent to parents Monday. “This involves using special cleaning products and disinfecting every surface.”
County officials told school leaders that anyone who was in contact with asymptomatic family members does not need to take any special precautions, according to the statement.
The Ritz-Carlton in Clayton is also undertaking “enhanced cleaning” of areas of the hotel that hosted the father-daughter dance, according to hotel spokeswoman Bonnie Crail.
County and state health officials have not released detailed information about other places where the family members have gone, leaving some organizations to assess risk to their communities and notify people who may be interested.
A manager at Deer Creek Coffee found out Sunday that the father whose family was supposed to be quarantined visited the shop on Saturday morning.
“The family called to let us know,” said Kent McCarty, owner of the coffee shop at 9820 Clayton Road in Ladue. The shop then called the health department to alert them, and the coffee shop workers started cleaning.
“Disinfectant and bleach, a thorough cleaning,” McCarty said. “There is no cleaner surface right now than at Deer Creek Coffee. I can promise you that.”
The head of John Burroughs School in Ladue emailed the school’s families Sunday night to report a “handful” of seniors might have been exposed to the virus Saturday when they gathered at a house where the father and sister of the infected patient had attended a gathering before the dance.
The family who lives at that house includes children who attend Villa and Burroughs.
“The likelihood of any of the Burroughs students contracting the virus is extraordinarily low,” John Burroughs Head Andy Abbott wrote, adding that the students have been asked not to attend school “until we have more information.”
Schmidt said on Monday the CDC did not recommend any special treatment for people who may have come into contact with the father or younger daughter.
“Neither the father nor the younger daughter are symptomatic in any way, so anyone else’s exposure to them, particularly for brief periods of time, is not really of particular concern to the CDC,” she said.
Testing can only be done when patients show symptoms, Page said.
A staff member at Russell Elementary and a consultant at Walker Elementary in the Hazelwood School District are self-quarantined after “distant contact with persons who currently are undergoing testing for coronavirus,” according to a message sent to parents Monday from Superintendent Nettie Collins-Hart.
St. Louis County has tested one other person for coronavirus and is monitoring six others, including the college student’s mother, father and sister, for symptoms.
Four residents of St. Charles County were awaiting coronavirus test results Monday from the county health department and placed under quarantine in recent days, said Mary Enger, county director of communications. All four people exhibited symptoms of the virus after returning from recent trips to countries or U.S. states that have reported confirmed cases of the virus.
Kim Bell and Blythe Bernhard of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.
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