Dad hid coronavirus symptoms to visit his wife in the maternity ward. Now, she’s sick too

A man who had been exposed to the coronavirus and who was himself feeling sick hid his symptoms from staff at a New York hospital so he could join his expectant wife in the maternity center.

He confessed only when his wife began to show symptoms of COVID-19 shortly after giving birth at Strong Memorial Hospital.

The incident, which occurred in the last week, is a fresh example of the need for extreme caution — and honesty — when it comes to the highly communicable virus.

The incident helped motivate a UR Medicine announcement Monday that it would begin taking the temperatures of the relatively small number of visitors being allowed into Strong, Highland and three other affiliated hospitals with maternity services.

The change is the second announced Monday. UR Medicine, along with Rochester Regional Health, said it would require staff, patients and visitors to wear surgical masks in public, patient-care areas of their facilities.

The universal-masking new policy is not related to the incident at Strong.

From an honor system to temperature check

Like other hospital operators in New York, UR Medicine began blocking most visitors two weeks ago in hopes of preventing the spread of COVID-19 to highly vulnerable patients and to sorely needed hospital staff.

The exceptions are parents whose child is hospitalized; a person whose loved one is near the end of life, and one spouse, partner or doula to assist a woman giving birth and support her afterward.

Strong Memorial Hospital and Golisano Children’s Hospital sign in Rochester on March 3, 2020.

Upon arriving, those visitors were asked if they’d been in proximity to anyone who might have COVID-19 and if their own health was good. If they attested that all was well, the visitors were allowed in. 

“It was purely an honor system before,” said UR Medicine spokesman Chip Partner. “Now we’re adding the temperature check.”

Visitors’ body temperatures will be checked for fever, a sign of possible coronavirus infection upon entry, and every 12 hours afterward as long as the visitor remains in the hospital.

The hospital system also said it was tweaking its the visitation policy in accord with new guidance from the state government, and will allow a pediatric patient to designate two parents or other care-givers who can visit instead of just one. But only one of the designated parties can visit at a time, Partner said.

Mother soon became symptomatic

The incident in Strong’s maternity unit began after the husband of a woman about to give birth avowed when he arrived at the hospital that he was healthy.

He changed his tune after the child was born. “The mother became symptomatic shortly after delivering. That’s when the significant other admitted his potential exposure and that he was feeling symptomatic,” Partner said.

Whether the mother, father or newborn actually developed COVID-19 could not be disclosed due to privacy laws, Partner said.

He declined to speculate why the father was untruthful when he arrived at Strong.

Maternity staff were informed of their potential exposure but allowed to continue working as long as they remained asymptomatic, Partner said. They were instructed to wear masks at all times and to take their temperatures throughout their shift. Fever is the most common early symptom of COVID-19.

One staff member showed symptoms of respiratory illness and was tested for coronavirus. The test was negative, Partner said, but she remained in quarantine for an additional length of time just to be certain she was healthy.

Follow Steve Orr on Twitter at @SOrr1. 

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