New Rochelle Family’s Coronavirus Diagnosis Sparks Quarantines, Closures

new rochelle coronavirus
Dr. Howard Zucker, left, Commissioner of the New York State Department of Health, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, discussing the state’s preparedness for the spread of coronavirus, Monday. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Health officials seeking to prevent a potential COVID-19 outbreak in New York state shifted their focus Wednesday to New Rochelle, where four members of the same family and a neighbor have been diagnosed with the virus.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo was scheduled to meet with local leaders in Westchester County, north of New York City, after test results came back positive for the wife, two children and neighbor of a lawyer hospitalized in critical condition with the disease.

That brought the number of confirmed cases in the state to six.

“That then triggers the detective work where we go back and we try to make as many connections as possible,” Cuomo said at a news conference in Albany. “And do as much research and investigation as possible. And then notify people, right?

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

The 50-year-old lawyer, who commuted by train 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.

The lawyer’s wife and their 14-year-old daughter and 20-year-old son are quarantined at their home. The neighbor, who had driven the lawyer to the hospital when he was experiencing coronavirus symptoms, is also under self-quarantine at home.

Yeshiva University, where the 20-year-old is a student, canceled classes at one of its Manhattan campuses. The yeshiva that the 14-year-old attends, Salanter Akiba Riverdale (SAR) Academy in the Bronx’s Riverdale neighborhood, was shut down after the lawyer’s positive test was announced Tuesday. Services were canceled at the Young Israel shul the family attended, and other institutions were closed.

“We have unfortunately received news this morning that our student has tested positive for COVID-19,” Yeshiva University said in a statement on its website. “Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family as well as to all those affected.”

YU said it is canceling classes at the upper Manhattan campus where the student is enrolled. Yeshiva University’s three other campuses are unaffected. The school has an enrollment of about 6,000 students, including about 2,700 undergraduate students.

Westchester County health officials on Tuesday directed the family’s synagogue, Young Israel of New Rochelle, to halt services immediately. 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.

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.

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. 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.”

Updated Wednesday, March 4, 2020 at 1:14 pm .