Coronavirus outbreak in Tri-state area grows rapidly

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A building in Seattle is empty during lunchtime on March 5, 2020, as workers stayed home to avoid the coronavirus. Photo for The Washington Post by Stuart Isett

NEW YORK – The numbers are hard to keep up, like bingo numbers that keep changing. Except for one harsh truth when it comes to the now dreaded coronavirus: the number of infected and those dying from the virus that emanated from China sometime in December of 2019 and has now spread to more than half of the countries in the world, and counting, are going by every single hour, hour after hour.

As of going to press for this edition of Desi Talk, on March 10, 2020, the numbers from the tri-state area looks dismal and scary: In New York state, there are now 173 cases of infections, with 108 cases in Westchester County itself (with 10 new cases since Monday), New York City has 36 cases (17 new), Nassau has 19 (2 new), Rockland 6 (2 new), Saratoga 2, and Suffolk and Ulster counties 1 each.

Globally, there are now 114,595 cases recorded, with 4,028 deaths recorded. There are more than 46,000 pending cases to that total. According to NBC News, citing figures from CDC, the United States had 733 cases and 26 deaths reported from 34 states and Washington, D.C. In more than 300 of those cases, authorities still don’t know how the virus was contracted. Twenty-two of the fatalities have been in Washington state, where America’s very first case was reported.

Here in the tri-state area, the number of novel coronavirus cases more than tripled between late Friday and Tuesday, from 49 cases to 186. New Jersey had 11 positive samples that had been sent to the CDC for confirmation, and Gov. Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency; Connecticut saw its second presumptive positive as well. New York state too had declared a state of emergency earlier.

In Connecticut, Sen. Len Fasano said a press conference that a second Connecticut resident has tested positive for COVID-19, the official name for the virus. That person is receiving treatment at Bridgeport Hospital, Fasano said. A resident of Wilton was the first one to test positive.

NBC News reported New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a slate of sweeping new directives Tuesday for Westchester County’s New Rochelle, which he described as the “most significant cluster in the country” and accounts for the lion’s share of the tri-state’s surging caseload.

Those measures include deploying National Guard troops to a Health Department command post and setting up a satellite testing facility and one-mile containment area in the city.

New Rochelle is home to the midtown Manhattan lawyer who has been linked to dozens of cases across multiple states. He was the second confirmed case in the state and its first instance of community spread.

Overall, the state of New York is trailing only Washington state (179) as America’s most impacted state.

Meanwhile, school closings, community event cancellations and other fallout from the virus are expanding as officials work to contain the spread. Asked Tuesday whether New York City’s iconic St. Patrick’s Day Parade, scheduled for next week should be canceled out of caution, Cuomo said officials are still assessing the situation.

“You calibrate your response to the time and the facts and the circumstances in that place at that time,” Cuomo said on CNN.

Cuomo said even more people need to be tested. He said Tuesday the CDC authorized six private labs in the New York-area to conduct testing late Monday. By default, that enhanced testing ability leads to a boom in positives, local leaders have said. But as public anxiety swells, more communities, schools and companies are taking aggressive precautionary measures.

A 7-year-old Bronx girl with no known nexus to travel or pre-existing conditions was added to the city’s case total Monday, likely the youngest patient here to date, as was an FDNY EMS member in Brooklyn — the first confirmed COVID-19 case among first responders, NBC reported.

The city has issued new guidelines for commuters, including suggesting people telecommute and avoid crowded trains if possible. The U.S. State Department has cautioned against cruises, particularly for people who have underlying health concerns. Starting Tuesday night, the United Nations closes to the general public and suspends tours until further notice.

NJ.com reported several New Jersey colleges and universities have already cancelled in-person classes and all learning will take place remotely online. In New York, Columbia University too closed down after Yeshiva University earlier. Classes will be held online.

New Jersey state health officials also advised residents on Monday to stock up on a 14-day supply of food and medicine just in case they need to be quarantined.

Gov. Murphy said the emergency declaration “responsibly removes bureaucratic barriers to make sure we have the resources and supplies our front line public health and safety professionals need to do their jobs.”

CBS local reported Cuomo also said New York state is implementing a policy where if a person at any school tests positive, that school will be closed for at least 24 hours for an assessment and make a determination about longer closures. Officials continue to try to find where positive cases are, isolate and contain them.

Cuomo introduced “New York State Clean Hand Sanitizer,” ceremoniously unveiled at the start of his Monday morning coronavirus briefing to address shortages and price gouging. It is made by prisoners through the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

About 100,000 gallons of free alcohol-based hand sanitizer will be produced each week to help combat price gouging, reported CBS.

“We’ll be providing this to governmental agencies, schools, MTA prisons because you can’t get it on the market,” Cuomo said. “It’s much cheaper to make it ourselves than to buy it on the open market.”

Cuomo also announced that one of the latest cases is a top transportation official in charge of the airports: Rick Cotton, executive director of the Port Authority. Cotton is in his mid-70s and is asymptomatic.

The governor has been calling on the federal government to increase testing capacity at more labs so thousands of tests can be done a day. Northwell Health labs on Long Island just got federal approval to begin manual testing as Suffolk County deals with its first confirmed case. Nassau county has 17 confirmed cases, including a cluster in Hempstead.

“We’re going to be doing investigations into the new cases. We go through their contacts, where they go to school, where they go to work, how they get to work if they’ve traveled, been to a family gathering,” said Nassau County Executive Laura Curran.

In New York City, Mayor de Blasio said the good news is that more testing is getting done.

“We now have 205 tests that came out negative, which is great – 59 new since yesterday. So the rate of testing is really increasing rapidly. We have 86 pending tests right now,” de Blasio said.

Officials are warning particularly vulnerable people – senior citizens and those with underlying health conditions – about large group gatherings. Large crowds include the subway.

Cuomo says, as the number rise, he’s urging calm.

“People are reacting like this is the ebola virus. This is not the ebola virus. This hysteria that you see, the fear you see, the panic, is unwarranted…This spreads like the flu, but most people who have it will get on with their lives,” Cuomo said.

In New York City, as in New Jersey and Connecticut, school trips abroad and non-essential international travel for city workers have been canceled. The city is also offering financial relief packages for small businesses struggling due to the outbreak, expecting more to come.

“I think we could be well at 100 cases or hundreds of cases over the next two or three weeks,” said de Blasio. “We have to be prepared for that reality.”

The virus seems to be also impacting people with no pre-existing medical problems.

The New York Post interviewed a New Jersey medical worker who was the Garden State’s first coronavirus patient. He says every day his health is “getting worse” — and warned others to take the bug more seriously, especially since he has none of the underlying conditions that officials have warned about.

James Cai, a 32-year-old physician’s assistant, said he thinks he caught the bug while attending a medical conference last weekend at a Times Square hotel, news station WCBS reported.

“It happened so quick,” Cai told the outlet. “The virus is everything. Diarrhea, watery eyes, shortness of breath, chest pain, you name it. High fever. … Every day is getting worse.”

Cai said he first visited an urgent-care clinic, then went to the emergency room at Hackensack University Medical Center, where he’s remained since Tuesday, according to the outlet, reported the Post.

“People have to take the coronavirus seriously. It’s very serious,” Cai told CBS.

People also have to be wary of scams in the Tri-state area.

CNN reported that people from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are not going door-to-door to conduct coronavirus-related surveillance.

Police departments in New Jersey are warning residents not speak to anyone claiming to be from the CDC or to let them into their homes. The warnings follow social media posts that seem to indicate people are knocking on doors, claiming to be seeking information about the novel coronavirus, police said.

“There have been social media posts regarding individuals going door to door claiming to be from the CDC,” the Moorestown Township Police Department in Burlington County said in a statement.

“The CDC is not deploying teams of people to go door to door to conduct surveillance. People should be warned to not let them in their homes or to speak with them. They are imposters.”

Moorestown police had not gotten any complaints from residents about such scams, Chief Lee Lieber said. County and state health officials had mentioned unconfirmed reports on social media, he said, reported CNN.

“We thought that would be important for our residents to know,” Lieber told CNN.

Authorities warn that if this happens in your community, you should contact law enforcement.

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