NEW YORK - There are now 36 confirmed coronavirus cases in New York City, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio confirmed Tuesday, as the state institutes a containment zone just north of the Bronx.
The city's total includes a lawyer from Westchester who is hospitalized in the city and an EMT worker whom the FDNY announced tested positive Monday afternoon. It is unclear if that EMT member is a city resident.
A 'CLUSTER OF CASES' IN NEW ROCHELLE
The statewide total stands at more than 170, with most patients concentrated to the Westchester city of New Rochelle, which is just north of the Bronx.
"This is the single greatest public health challenge we have in the state right now," Cuomo said addressing the "cluster of cases" in Westchester during a briefing in Albany.
The state has identified the center of coronavirus activity in New Rochelle and will close schools and facilitates within a one-mile radius of the area for two weeks. The containment area will not restrict movement in and out.
The governor said the National Guard will assist in delivering food to homes and clean public spaces in affected areas.
"This will be a period of disruption for that area, I understand that," said the governor. "This can't be a political decision — this is a public health decision."
The state said it followed doctor recommendations to employ this strategy of containment and mitigation.
"When you politically interfere with science, that's when you make the mistake," Cuomo said, adding that it's "a matter of life and death."
A satellite testing facility has also been approved in the Westchester area to make testing more accessible and to prevent the exposure of sick people having to travel via cab or public transportation to get diagnosed.
173 CASES IN THE STATE
While 173 statewide have tested positive for the new coronavirus, only 14 people were hospitalized as of this writing; Cuomo says most of the 14 are either senior citizens or have an underlying illness.
The governor compared the 173 cases in New York to the 179 in Washington state. While both have about the same number of cases, there have been no reported deaths in New York, while there have been 22 in Washington.
The governor highlighted this to affirm the point that the elderly are more at-risk than others. The outbreak in Washington was centered on a senior citizen facility.
OVER 190 TESTS PENDING
Speaking at a news conference Tuesday afternoon, de Blasio said, as of 10 a.m.:
- 195 tests for coronavirus in New York City were pending
- 258 tests were negative
- 30 people in the city were in mandatory isolation
- 1,980 people were in voluntary isolation
The mayor says private labs in the city are ready to begin testing for the virus to speed up the city's testing, although he continues to advocate for federal approval for automated testing, which he maintains will allow New York City to test thousands of people at a time instead of hundreds. De Blasio also called on the federal government to provide 300,000 new respirator masks.
"We need more tests. It's really, really important. At this point in their outbreak, South Korea was testing 10 to 15,000 people a day, and had tested a hundred thousand people up to this point. We need a federal partner that's going to work with us," said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who postponed his State of the City speech, set for Thursday, due to concerns over the virus.
The mayor said at this time there were no confirmed cases of inmates at Rikers, nor Department of Correction employees, having contracted coronavirus.
According to preliminary information in the mayor's news conference Tuesday afternoon, the FDNY EMT who tested positive for the new coronavirus was believed to have contracted the virus through his girlfriend, a flight attendant who traveled to an infected area. As a result, five of the EMT's colleagues, who were not displaying symptoms as of Tuesday morning, were in isolation. Nineteen members of the city fire department were in self-isolation overall.
The EMT treated 11 patients while wearing protective gear, de Blasio said. The FDNY will follow up with the EMT's patients to determine if they potentially contracted coronavirus.
The mayor said the first confirmed COVID-19 case in the city, a health care worker from Iran, was now asymptomatic, along with her husband, who tested negative for the virus. De Blasio says if the couple, who are in isolation, tests negative again, they should come out of isolation hopefully by the end of the week.
De Blasio also acknowledged the risk to the city posed by any damage to the stock market and Wall Street more generally.
"Clearly could have an impact on revenue," the mayor said. "In terms of the finance sector, we're very worried about our businesses and drop off in sales for them, and obviously that has revenue ramifications in many ways."
Still, he said, it's too early to talk about cuts in the budget that's currently being negotiated with the City Council.
Even though the numbers keep going up, de Blasio says New Yorkers are listening to the advice they're being given to stay healthy.
He gave an update Tuesday morning during an appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
"Wash your hands more, use hand sanitizer, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. If you're older and have preexisting conditions, don't visit folks who are sick. If you want to see your grandchildren and they have the sniffles, that's not the time to do it. New Yorkers are pretty tough and they're listening and making adjustments," de Blasio said.
Health officials have continually said the symptoms of coronavirus are not as severe for those under 50 years old with no underlying health issues.
The city is sending out updates on the virus through a text alert system, which can be accessed by texting "COVID" to 692692.
The city health department is also advising anyone with a fever to stay home and avoid going out in the public, or to work or school, until they are fever-free for at least 72 hours without the use of medicine.
COLLEGES CANCELLING CLASSES
The spread of coronavirus has led to:
John Jay College closing school for Wednesday "out of an abundance of caution" after school officials said a student tested positive earlier Tuesday. John Jay College said the student had not been on the campus since displaying symptoms over the weekend.
St. John's University cancelling classes Tuesday and Wednesday and starting online instruction on Thursday.
New York University planned to conduct classes remotely starting Wednesday and continuing through at least March 27.
Fordham University will move to online or electronic instruction Wednesday, and has canceled all on-campus events through March 29.
Pace University, starting Wednesday, will move to online classes through March 29, cancelling in-person classes.
Cornell University went even further, announcing after spring break it would conduct only online classes through the end of the semester.
The city has no plans to close any public schools over coronavirus, but Cuomo said Monday that a school will be closed for at least 24 hours if a student or staff member tests positive.
De Blasio has said he does not foresee mass school closures like those in Italy or Japan. He also does not expect schools to be closed for an extended period of time.
NYRR NYC HALF CANCELLED
Separately, the New York Road Runners announced in the evening that it was cancelling the NYC Half, scheduled for Sunday, and the Rising New York Road Runners youth event due to concerns over the virus.
"The cancellation of the NYC Half is disappointing news to many, but the resources necessary to organize an event with 25,000 runners on the streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan have become strained during this difficult period," the race organizers said in a statement. "It has become clear that we will be unable to proceed in the manner that our runners have come to expect at NYRR events, where the safety and security of our runners, volunteers, staff, partners, and spectators are our main concern."
HAND SANITIZER PRODUCTION
Meanwhile, Cuomo is trying to address soaring prices for hand sanitizer by having the state make its own. He says the "New York State Clean" hand sanitizer has an alcohol volume of 75 percent and is being made by inmates at a state correctional facility.
The sanitizer is currently being provided to governmental agencies, schools, the MTA, and prisons.
CITY ADVISES CHANGES TO COMMUTING HABITS
Meantime, de Blasio and the MTA are asking New Yorkers to ride the subways during off-peak hours, if possible, to avoid the larger crowds during rush hours. The hope is this could help curtail the spread of coronavirus.
Some commuters are already taking precautions like wearing gloves and face masks. However, face masks are only recommended for health care workers.
Others could be seen trying to avoid touching the poles on the train, but many others didn't hesitate.
Some commuters are using creative ways to buy a MetroCard without using their hands, like using their credit cards to enter their zip code or using the backs of their hands on the touch screen.
But avoiding the trains during rush hour is very hard for many straphangers.
"Well, how am I supposed to get to work and school without the train? So, I don't know, it's a little difficult, but I don't really have a lot of money to be spending on a bunch of Ubers," said one straphanger.
"Most people have to take it, so not really any other real option, like nobody's going to Uber to work, to the city every day," said another straphanger.
"Being on the train, things down here, it's like there's germs everywhere. So you gotta be careful. You always need to wash your hands. The coronavirus is what it is. There's the flu, there was Ebola, there was swine [flu], you know, all that stuff. I'm pretty sure it'll be okay," noted a third rider.
The MTA is also strongly urging anyone who is already sick not to take public transportation.
DE BLASIO: NEW YORKERS SHOULDN'T GO ON CRUISES
According to the mayor, cruise ship terminals in Red Hook and the West Side of Manhattan, run by a private company, will be cleaned.
The mayor advised New Yorkers to adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance and not take a cruise at this time. If anyone does, health care workers will be on-site to administer additional screening during boarding. Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher will not be allowed to board the cruise ship.
The mayor said the next incoming cruise slated to come into the West Side Terminal will reach Sunday. That cruise will be met by Department of Health officials, and outgoing passengers will be subject to the same screening procedures as those who get on cruises leaving the city. The next cruise scheduled to come into the Red Hook Terminal will reach April 9.
The city is working to double its force of disease detectives, those who track contacts when someone is suspected of having an infectious disease. As a result, de Blasio noted, all New York City school nurses will be trained to conduct the initial screening. The timeline for that training has yet to be determined.
De Blasio also stresses that it is still safe for New Yorkers to donate blood. The city's blood supply is fine at this time, he says, but some blood drives in the city have been cancelled.
Bobby Cuza contributed reporting to this story.
FURTHER CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE