COBB COUNTY, Ga. — A couple said they received positive test results for the coronavirus, but were released from a metro Atlanta quarantine facility just a few days later -- and flew home on a commercial airline.
Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Nicole Carr was in Cobb County, were the couple stayed at hotel that is doubling as a federal quarantine center for about a week.
It's the first account Channel 2 Action News has heard of anyone staying at the facility, which is concealed with black fencing and manned by guards.
Lauri Lyn Hodges called Channel 2 Action News after her parents, Laurin and Marilyn White, were released on Friday morning.
The Whites were passengers on the Grand Princess Cruise Ship. Earlier this month, they were dropped off at Dobbins Air Reserve Base before heading to separate metro Atlanta hospitals. They were later moved to the Old Radisson quarantine hotel in Marietta.
Hodges said her 75- and 85-year-old parents just received positive COVID-19 tests a week prior to the cruise line booking their trip home to North Carolina on Friday.
Hodges said the original plan was to have them fly out earlier in the week, but she encouraged them to request a charter flight out of “moral responsibility. Princess cruise lines made arrangements for a Delta commercial flight out of the Atlanta airport on Friday. When a bus dropped the couple off at the airport that morning, that flight was cancelled, and they were able to re-book an American Airlines flight to the Charlotte airport.
Carr talked to Hodges Friday.
“I’m fuming because I don’t understand why they’re allowed to go on a commercial flight,” Hodges said. “I mean, they treated it initially like they were a biohazard threat to the community and you’d never know that a week later, they’re like, ‘You just hop on whatever commercial airline we can get you worked up with and expose the public.’”
Hodges said her mother had a fever two days before the flight.
Carr reached out to the Department of Health and Human Services about the White's case. The agency cited health and safety as their top priority for the public and cruise ship passengers. A spokesperson wouldn't talk about the Whites specifically because of HIPAA laws, but said anyone released from federal quarantine meets Center for Disease Prevention and Control guidelines.
Those guidelines are as follows:
- · People with positive coronavirus tests and no symptoms should stop home isolation 7 days after the test results come back and they can’t be sick.
- People with coronavirus and symptoms can stop isolation after their fever is gone, they have improved respiratory symptoms, like cough or shortness of breath, and they’ve had two negative swab specimens collected more than a day apart.
Hodges said her parents were initially told they'd have to have those negative tests before an estimated April release from the hotel.
“So in one week, we go from saying you have to test negative two times, to, ‘Oh, we’ve worked out with the officials of North Carolina,’” Hodges said.
HHS denied telling the couple this.
When asked whether the airline should have been notified of flight crew or passenger exposure, the agency said it could not comment on specific cases, but no one from HHS quarantine or isolation is released without meeting CDC criteria.
HHS said they notify states of incoming positive cases, it's "anticipated the state will follow-up with them in their home."
The cruise line apologized in a statement for the Whites initial canceled flight that left them searching for help in an empty airport Friday.
They said they make flight arrangements with directives from the federal government.
“We are sorry to hear of Mr. and Mrs. White’s frustrations,” the statement read before saying they’d confirmed the Whites made it home safely.
“With regards to quarantine processes, Princess has followed the directives by the CDC and HHS,” the statement continued. “Any questions about those processes, procedures and decisions should be directed to HHS.”
Hodges said she ordered a North Carolina car service to take her parents home to Greensboro from the Charlotte airport. She said she was unable to pick them up because both she and her child have health issues, and she was not comfortable being in the car with her parents before they receive negative tests.
MARCH 30 UPDATE :
American Airlines confirms it wasn’t notified that the Whites, who received positive test results a week earlier, boarded their flight Friday.
On Monday afternoon, and in response to follow-up questions, HHS told Channel 2 Action News it did not notify the airline because under a recently updated policy, they did not believe the couple to be infectious.
That March 22 policy clears positive cases for release if they’ve gone more than 3 days without a fever after testing.
The couple’s daughter told Channel 2 her mother was feverish two days before the flight, prompting their exposure concerns.
The airline also confirmed it doesn’t bear responsibility in notifying passengers of potential exposure. Part of the statement reads:
“American works closely with the CDC. If American is notified by the CDC that a customer or team member tests positive for any infectious disease, including COVID-19, our medical team works directly with them on possible notifications. Under federal regulations, the CDC initiates contact with customers who may have been exposed. This process is handled directly by the CDC and not by any individual U.S. airline.”
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