Cuomo declares State of Emergency as NY reaches 76 coronavirus cases

Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced a State of Emergency in New York as the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) reached 76 on Saturday. The list of confirmed cases now includes 57 people in Westchester County, 11 people in New York City, 4 people in Nassau County, 2 people in Rockland County and 2 people in Saratoga County.

Across the state, approximately 4,000 people were under precautionary quarantine, Cuomo said. They include those that had returned from a country of concern but were not symptomatic, had proximate (not direct) exposure to a positive case, and others recommended by health officials.

"While the overall risk level of the novel coronavirus in New York remains low, I want New Yorkers to know that I'm not urging calm. I'm urging reality. I'm urging a factual response as opposed to an emotional response," Cuomo said. "In New York, we have the most sophisticated healthcare system on the globe, and we are continuing to prioritize testing, quarantine protocols and containment tracking to keep New Yorkers safe."

Health officials have sought to reassure the public that most cases of coronavirus are mild and that the overall threat is low, but are still aggressively working to track down the origins of any infections. 

A new, statewide coronavirus testing protocol was also implemented Friday, added Cuomo. It involves priority testing outlined in five steps:

  1. A person who comes within close contact, defined as 6 feet, of a person known to be a positive case of coronavirus will get tested.
  2. A person who has been quarantined (mandatory or precautionary) and begins showing symptoms of coronavirus will get tested.
  3. A person who has traveled to a hot spot area and is showing symptoms associated with coronavirus will get tested 
  4. A person who is seriously ill, as determined by a doctor, and hasn't tested positive for any other virus will get tested.
  5. And any other case where the doctor consults with the local and state Departments of Health, and facts and circumstances merit it, the person will get tested.

A day earlier, the number of cases had doubled in the state with newly diagnosed cases including two critically ill, hospitalized patients in New York City and a hospitalized man in Long Island’s Nassau County, officials said.

"The number will continue to go up" as testing increases, Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned, adding that he expected "significant" spread through the public.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said the patients diagnosed Thursday, a man in his 40s and a woman in her 80s, both have underlying medical problems that may have intensified their symptoms.

Neither had traveled to virus hotspots or had ties to known cases in the area, adding to indications the virus is spreading locally.

“Our level of concern is rising, for sure," de Blasio said. “You have to assume it could be anywhere in the city, so we’re going to work on an assumption of intense vigilance.”

The Long Island patient, a 42-year-old man, also has underlying medical problems. He's not in intensive care, and his condition is improving, officials said.

Meanwhile, officials in neighboring New Jersey announced the state's first four coronavirus cases, with all the patients hospitalized. 

Worldwide, the virus has infected over 100,000 people in 90 countries and killed over 3,400 as of Friday. Officials have sought to emphasize that most cases are mild enough not to require hospitalization.

Still, cases of the new virus—and concerns about potential ones—have already prompted officials to ask thousands of people in recent weeks to quarantine themselves. There were scattered school closings in the region amid fears of a wider spread of the virus. Two elite private schools in Manhattan, the all-girls Spence and the all-boys Collegiate, closed Friday because a family associated with the schools was being monitored for the coronavirus.

And a Manhattan federal judge switched courtrooms Thursday after learning that a person dismissed from a pool of prospective jurors earlier this week was later told to self-quarantine. The person hasn't tested positive for the virus but had been at a house of worship on the same day as someone who did test positive, U.S. District Judge Alison J. Nathan said.

De Blasio, a Democrat, urged the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to supply New York with more test kits and to speed the approval of tests that private companies may be developing.

In the Westchester County cases, Cuomo has said the disease appeared to have been passed from a lawyer to his family and other people they're close with in what experts call “community spread.” After his diagnosis, tests came back positive for the lawyer's wife, two children and a neighbor, as well as one of his friends and members of that man's family.

Cuomo said people who've come into contact with them will be tested and should sequester themselves in their homes. They include eight people who worked with the lawyer and his wife at their law firm and hospital workers who treated him, as well as the neighbor's children.

“Whenever you find a case, it is about containment and doing the best you can to keep the circle as tight as possible," Cuomo said.

The 50-year-old lawyer, who commuted by train from New Rochelle to work at a small Manhattan law firm, has an underlying respiratory illness that potentially put him in more danger from the disease, officials said. He is being treated in the intensive care unit of a Manhattan hospital.

Cuomo said the lawyer had no known travel history to countries where the outbreak of the new coronavirus has been sustained. State and city officials said the man had done some other traveling recently, including an early February trip to Miami.

The lawyer's wife and their 14-year-old daughter were asymptomatic, de Blasio said. The 20-year-old son had some symptoms but is getting better, de Blasio said. All three are quarantined at their home. The neighbor, who had driven the lawyer to get medical attention when he was experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, and the other family that has been diagnosed are also under self-quarantine at home.

---------

Get breaking news alerts in the FOX5NY News app. It is FREE!

Download for iOS or Android

---------

The upper Manhattan campus of Yeshiva University was already closed through Friday because the stricken lawyer's son is a student there and has also tested positive for the virus. Mayor De Blasio said two people he had close contact with—a roommate and a friend—were also being tested. Yeshiva University's three other campuses are unaffected. The school has an enrollment of about 6,000 students, including about 2,700 undergraduate students.

The Bronx school that the 14-year-old attends will remain closed into next week. Westchester Torah Academy, where the children from the other affected family are students, is also closed. Services were canceled at the synagogue that the lawyer's family attended, and other institutions were closed.

The rabbi of family's synagogue, Young Israel of New Rochelle, also tested positive for the illness.

"I can now reassure you that it is possible, Thank G-d, to get through this virus without a special vaccine. I have the virus and am doing reasonably well,” Rabbi Reuven Fink wrote in an email to synagogue members, according to a letter posted online. “But I must caution all of you who have had personal contact with me to seek counsel from your health practitioner as to how to proceed.”

Congregants who attended Feb. 22 services as well as a funeral and a bat mitzvah on Feb. 23 were directed to quarantine themselves at least through Sunday.

County officials said they will mandate quarantines for those who do not comply.

In another development, Cuomo said state-run universities are recalling about 300 study-abroad students and faculty from China, Italy, Japan, Iran and South Korea, places where the numbers of coronavirus cases have been growing. Cuomo said they will be flown back to the U.S. on a charter flight and quarantined for 14 days.

De Blasio said public school trips to those countries have been canceled and officials are urging cancellation of all study abroad programs, including those where students from other countries come to the city to live with host families. He said there's been no noticeable change in city public school attendance.

"We have an epidemic caused by coronavirus," said NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo. "But we have a pandemic that is caused by fear."

Taxi regulators are telling drivers and owners to clean their cars with disinfectant products at least once a day, paying special attention to surfaces that are touched often, such as door handles, armrests, and seat belts. Uber said it has similar protocols in place.

The new positive tests for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 came one day after Cuomo announced that the lawyer had become the second case in New York state.

“The more you test, the more positive cases you will find,” Cuomo said.

In what he said was a bit of good news, Cuomo announced Wednesday that tests in other suspected COVID-19 cases around the state had come back negative, including for the husband of the first patient diagnosed in the state. Both the husband and the wife are healthcare workers who recently traveled together to Iran, where the disease is widespread.

Cuomo said the woman, 39, is continuing to recover at home. De Blasio said despite the husband's negative test, he would still be subject to the same quarantine mandate as a precaution.

As he has in recent days, the governor sought to reassure the public that the disease is often passed by close contact, not casual contact like riding in the same subway car as a person who may be sick.

"We have an epidemic caused by coronavirus," Cuomo said. "But we have a pandemic that is caused by fear."

With the Associated Press