New York state is sending National Guard troops to suburban New Rochelle to help establish a “containment zone” in an attempt to check the spread of coronavirus in one of the hardest-hit communities in the US.
Andrew Cuomo, the New York governor, announced the measures on Tuesday as he revealed that cases were rising “unabated” in New Rochelle, a city of 80,000 people about 20 miles from midtown Manhattan that features a large population of commuters.
“It is a dramatic action but it is the largest cluster in the country. And this is literally a matter of life and death,” Mr Cuomo said at a news conference.
According to the state’s latest tally, the wider Westchester county had 108 cases of coronavirus as of Tuesday — primarily in New Rochelle — compared with 36 in New York City. Altogether, the state has recorded 173 cases, trailing only Washington state with 190. Washington has suffered 22 fatalities. So far, New York has yet to record any.
As part of the state’s plan, schools, synagogues and other facilities within the containment zone that host large gatherings would be closed until March 25. However, residents would be permitted to move freely, and local businesses would remain open. The idea, Mr Cuomo explained, was to “contain” places — not people. The state would also set up a testing facility within the containment area, Mr Cuomo said
Meanwhile, the National Guard would be called in to help deliver food to school children, and to clean public spaces, according to officials. It would not provide security or take part in law enforcement.
“We have moved from a containment strategy to more of a mitigation strategy,” said Dr Howard Zucker, the commissioner of the state health department.
Within New Rochelle, the virus appears to have clustered at an orthodox Jewish synagogue that authorities ordered closed last week after detecting several cases. In a letter published last week, Rabbi Reuven Fink disclosed that he had tested positive for the virus and urged his congregants to abide by health authorities’ instructions.
“I have the virus and am doing reasonably well. 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,” Rabbi Fink wrote.
He also tried to emphasise the spiritual possibilities of being quarantined, observing: “We sometimes find ourselves victims of life’s fragility and tentativeness. This is one of those times. It can help us to reorient our ultimate goals in life. Contemplation is good for the soul.”
Although the caseload in New York City has been relatively small thus far, the virus’ effects have begun to ripple all across the metropolis.
Many residents were jolted this week to learn that the head of the Port Authority, which oversees the region’s airports, had tested positive for the virus. Rick Cotton, a longtime executive of media group NBCUniversal before he was appointed to the Port Authority, was said to be at home and in good condition.
Companies have begun urging employees to work from home and restrict travel. Meanwhile, conferences have been cancelled and Broadway shows have begun to suffer a dip in attendance — particularly those that tend to appeal to foreign tourists. Producer Scott Rudin on Tuesday reduced prices to $50 for unsold tickets for his shows, including To Kill a Mockingbird and West Side Story.
Anticipating the economic blow to come, Mr Cuomo said he had asked the state’s comptroller to review the assumptions underlying New York’s recently negotiated budget. “The world has changed,” Mr Cuomo said.