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Officials: 22 NY cases of coronavirus; Long Island's an instance of 'community spread'

At a news conference on Thursday, the Nassau and

Nassau and Suffolk county executives Laura Curran and Steve Bellone, along with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, discuss Thursday the first confirmed case of the coronavirus on Long Island. It is one of 22 confirmed cases in New York.  Credit: Newsday / Chris Ware

This story was reported by Robert Brodsky, Alfonso A. Castillo, Matthew Chayes, Lisa L. Colangelo, Michael Gormley, David Olson and Craig Schneider. It was written by Colangelo.

The first confirmed case of the coronavirus has surfaced on Long Island, about two months after the outbreak started in China, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Thursday. It is one of 22 confirmed COVID-19 cases in New York.

A 42-year-old Nassau County man tested positive for the virus and is one of four hospitalized patients statewide, according to the governor. An NYU Winthrop Hospital spokeswoman said the man, who according to a source lives in Uniondale, is being treated at the Mineola facility. State officials said the man is not in intensive care, and his condition is "improving."

New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, during an afternoon news conference at the Long Island Welcome Center in Dix Hills alongside Cuomo, said it's unclear how the man contracted the virus and that this was an instance of "community spread" rather than travel.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines "community spread" as an illness in which the source of infection is unknown. Health officials do not believe the patient has a relevant travel history or exposure to another known patient with COVID-19.

“The number will increase because this will spread," Cuomo said, "and the number will increase because it is math. The more people you test, the more positives you will find.”

NYU Winthrop said in a statement that the Uniondale man “is currently in isolation, in an area of the hospital where protective measures help ensure the safety of staff and other patients."

The man has underlying medical conditions, said Cuomo, who was joined by Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and hospital officials at the news conference. Cuomo said both Northwell Health and Stony Brook University Hospital will be helping process tests for the virus.

Bellone said there are no confirmed cases in Suffolk County, but three other people are under investigation and being tested. Two potential cases that were being investigated in Suffolk came back negative, a county health department spokeswoman said.

After the Uniondale man is discharged, he will be advised to self-isolate for the period of time recommended under CDC guidelines, the hospital said.

"It’s always astonishing to have this level of virus in your backyard,” said Kevan Abrahams, minority leader of the Nassau County Legislature who represents the area of Uniondale.

He added that people in Uniondale should not panic, and that there is only a small chance of people getting the virus. At the same time, Abrahams acknowledged that he expected a higher level of concern in Uniondale.

Of the 11 new cases announced Thursday, two were in New York City, eight in Westchester County, as well as the one in Nassau.

Speaking about the Nassau case, Curran said people who have been in close contact with the man have been advised to isolate themselves. After the county received the positive test result Thursday morning, a team of investigators started looking at the man’s routine and possible contacts, Curran said.

Longtime Uniondale civic leader Pearl Jacobs said she doesn’t plan to change her daily routine now that she’s heard about the man testing positive for the virus.

“We’re concerned, of course, that we hear it’s here,” said Jacobs, president of the Nostrand Gardens Civic Association, which covers all of Uniondale. “Any time it’s on your doorstep, you get concerned. I would not say we should panic." 

Jacobs said the virus was already on her mind when she led a civic association meeting Monday. Usually, participants would shake hands or embrace. Instead, they did quick fist bumps, she said.

“We’re all talking and trying to practice the best hygiene we can at this time,” she said.

Also Thursday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the two new city cases of COVID-19 involve a 40-year-old man with preexisting respiratory issues related to smoking and vaping, and an 80-year-old woman whose illness is connected to her advanced age. One is hospitalized in Brooklyn, and the other in Manhattan, city officials said.

"Neither patient has a connection to travel, nor any of the other local individuals diagnosed with COVID-19," de Blasio said. "Both are currently hospitalized and in the intensive care unit. City disease detectives are tracing close contacts of both individuals and will ensure they are appropriately isolated and tested immediately."

Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, deputy commissioner of disease control at the New York City Health Department, said his personnel would follow up with Nassau to see whether there is a nexus between the Uniondale man and the five boroughs.

Eight of the new cases were people who had contact with a New Rochelle lawyer who tested positive for the virus earlier this week, Zucker said.

Cuomo has emphasized that 80% of people who contract the virus will “self-resolve” and may have mild or no symptoms. About 20% could require hospitalization, but most of those would be elderly or suffering from a preexisting respiratory ailment.

“I’m worried about undue fear," Cuomo said. "I’m worried about nursing homes, senior care facilities and senior congregate settings.”

De Blasio also urged anyone who's coming back from China, Iran, Italy, South Korea or Japan to voluntarily isolate for 14 days.

New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot has signed an order that would forcibly quarantine first responders, health care workers and educators who refuse to take a coronavirus test, if they are asked to do so.

So far, the outbreak in the state is focused in Westchester County, where 1,000 people are being isolated, mostly in their homes. The New Rochelle lawyer, who works in midtown Manhattan, was announced as a positive case Tuesday. Since then, several friends and family members have tested positive for the virus.

One of the man’s children’s schools has closed temporarily, along with Yeshiva University, where another child attended and lived on campus, state officials said.

The man was in the intensive care unit of the New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center on Wednesday, but Cuomo said he had an underlying respiratory ailment.

A 39-year-old health care worker in New York City who tested positive — the state's first case — is recovering at home.

Meanwhile, about 300 New York students and faculty in study abroad programs from countries that have had outbreaks of the virus will be headed back to the U.S. and quarantined, including in dorms on Long Island, officials said. 

Cuomo said the $35 million he believes the state will receive under an emergency federal funding package is "insufficient."

Nassau’s transit provider also is taking measures to prevent the virus from spreading. Jim Green, spokesman for the Nassau Inter-County Express, or NICE, which carries about 85,000 riders on an average weekday, has enhanced its daily cleaning procedures, including by disinfecting all “high-touch surfaces” — such as poles, handrails, seats, benches and grab bars — every evening.

MTA chairman Pat Foye announced Thursday that the agency was disinfecting all subway cars, buses, paratransit vehicles, Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road trains nightly to provide riders with assurance that the transit system is safe.

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