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Cuomo: Westchester man tests positive for coronavirus

On Tuesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that a second person in New York State tested positive for the coronavirus. The man, an attorney who works in New York City, had an underlying respiratory illness that Cuomo said made him vulnerable to the virus. Credit: Newsday / Yancey Roy; NY Governor's Office

ALBANY — A Westchester County man is hospitalized after testing positive for the new coronavirus, two families in Buffalo are being tested and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Tuesday that he expects "dozens and dozens" more cases statewide before the virus is contained.

The man, a 50-year-old attorney who works in midtown Manhattan, had an underlying respiratory illness that Cuomo said made him vulnerable to the virus. He is from New Rochelle, said State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who represents the area.

The man is being treated at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, state and New York City officials said. His co-workers at the law firm are also being tested because of close contact with the patient.

The man "had respiratory issues off and on for the last month but they became much more severe in the last few days," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a Manhattan news conference later Tuesday. The man "was originally hospitalized in Westchester County, now hospitalized at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital and in serious condition."

Cuomo said the man’s children go to school, and one voluntarily closed: the Riverdale SAR Academy/High School. That child is not showing symptoms related to the virus, de Blaiso said. Another child attends Yeshiva University in Manhattan and has shown symptoms, officials confirmed. Cuomo said state officials are trying to determine if the man took public transportation to work.

The man had traveled to Israel in early January, but appeared to be symptom-free for weeks afterward and was unlikely to have contracted the virus at the time, a state official said. The man had traveled to Miami before he apparently was infected, but Miami hasn't been a place with outbreaks of the virus at the time, the governor and state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said. The man is the second person in New York State to test positive.

State officials are trying to piece together the Westchester man's travels that would have included attending public events on the weekend of Feb. 21-22.

De Blasio said the man's family  -- his wife and two sons -- are quarantined at their home. The older son, the Yeshiva University student, has symptoms, de Blasio said.

Although de Blasio said only prolonged regular contact can transmit coronavirus, he said the cleaning regimen of city facilities, such the subways, would be intensified out of an "abundance of caution"

Cuomo also said some schools are voluntarily closing, to avoid contact with children who may be in contact with people who are infected. And, he said, colleges in the state university system are considering bringing their international-travel students home.

“SUNY is contemplating having the students who are in abroad programs come home. We will have a final determination on that by the end of the day,” Cuomo said.

The two families being tested in Buffalo "traveled to Italy and the part of Italy that has had an outbreak," Cuomo said, adding that they have been isolated in their homes.

"Of course, there are going to be more cases,” Cuomo said later on the “Let’s Get After It” radio show hosted by his brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo. “It’s going to be dozens and dozens of cases. That is what is going to happen.”

"We are really focused on senior citizens and people who have compromised immune systems or some other underlying illness," Cuomo told CNN.

The governor said the experts don’t know yet if the virus will spread more when the weather gets warmer and when more people are mixing publicly. “They can’t tell you if seasonal or not,” Cuomo said.

He said the “worst-case scenario” won’t be devastation, because most people won’t know they had the virus.

The virus has sickened more than 88,000 people around the globe and killed more than 3,000 people, according to the World Health Organization. 

Cuomo and de Blasio have tried to calm anxiety about the spread of the virus after the first confirmed case in the state was announced Sunday — a 39-year-old health care worker from Manhattan who returned last Tuesday from a trip to Iran. The health care worker is quarantined in her home. The woman’s husband, also a health care worker, has been tested and is likely to have the virus, officials said on Monday.

According to the state health department, results are pending for nine people who have been tested for COVID-19 — the husband of the Manhattan woman who tested positive for the coronavirus and eight from other parts of the state.

As of Tuesday, there were 67 people in Nassau County, up from 62 on Monday, and 24 people, down from 25, in Suffolk County under voluntary home isolation.

On Tuesday, the World Health Organization raised the projected mortality rate of the virus to about 3%, or about twice the rate of the common flu.

Zucker advised Tuesday that if someone is sick, they should seek help from their health care professional and stay home. He also said people should be sure to cough and sneeze into their sleeves, rather than their hands. He said if someone in the house is sick, people should also stay home.

Also Tuesday, Cuomo said, despite the coronavirus mortality rate,  “the real fact that’s relevant is 80 percent of the people who get this virus will self-resolve; they might not even know they had the virus.”

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that it expects more cases of “person-to-person spread” nationwide. “While information so far suggests that most … illness is mild, a report out of China suggests serious illness occurs in 16% of cases. Older people and people with certain underlying health conditions" such as heart disease, lung disease and diabetes "appear to be at greater risk of serious illness."

Also Tuesday, Cuomo signed a $40 million emergency spending measure for response to the virus. He said the funding will be used to buy additional masks, additional test kits for the private labs now doing tests,  and additional staff. “It’s for priority needs as they develop,” Cuomo said. 

Cuomo also has proposed in his budget protecting the jobs of people who are quarantined under a paid sick leave provision.

Cuomo said the private laboratories are being enlisted to test people faster. Until Monday, when the state and city laboratories were authorized by the federal government to do testing, testing was done only by the federal Centers for Disease Control. Results took days.

“These are uncharted territories,” Cuomo said. “Every day matters here and we have to have funds to do that.”

Cuomo said the state can now do 27 tests per day, but it plans to make 1,000 tests per day using the private laboratories.

The law passed Monday night also requires insurance companies to pay for the coronavirus test, so that it isn’t an out-of-pocket cost to individuals that could reduce testing. The state will pay for those without insurance, as a public health measure, Cuomo said.

Cuomo warned against what he called "hysteria" over the virus.

“The fear factor … is in fact the single biggest issue now,” Cuomo said. He criticized the politicizing of the virus by Democrats and Republicans and scare headlines. “This is a manageable situation … stop the manic obsession.”

County executives were briefed Monday on the state's actions, a Cuomo aide said. Next week, the Nassau County Legislature will hold a hearing on the county's preparedness for containing viruses.

 Also Tuesday, Westchester County Health Commissioner Sherlita Amler directed that Temple Young Israel of New Rochelle “halt all services immediately and for the foreseeable future” due to exposure of the virus.

Members who attended services on Feb. 22 and a bat mitzvah or funeral on Feb. 23 were told to quarantine themselves at home until at least March 8. Those who don’t will be required to do so by the county health department.

 Westchester County Executive George Latimer said the county has the legal authority to order a quarantine, but hasn't had to yet because all people tested volunteered to be quarantined, most often at home.

He said "at this point" the decision to close schools is the decision of the school system, unless "the state determines all schools need to close … we are not at that point yet." 

With Lisa Colangelo, Matthew Chayes and Candice Ferrette

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly described the method by which Cuomo would protect the jobs of people who are quarantined under a paid sick leave provision.

About the coronavirus

People with COVID-19 have reportedly had mild to severe respiratory illness.

Symptoms can include: fever, cough and shortness of breath

The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus.

Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

· Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

· Stay home when you are sick.

· Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.

· Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.

SOURCE: The U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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