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11 in NY have new virus, many with ties to afflicted lawyer

March 5, 2020 GMT
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A woman wears a protective glove as she purchases a metro card at a subway station, Wednesday, March 4, 2020, in New York. She said that she always wears gloves in the subway "because it's filthy." According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC), "It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads." (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
1 of 9
A woman wears a protective glove as she purchases a metro card at a subway station, Wednesday, March 4, 2020, in New York. She said that she always wears gloves in the subway "because it's filthy." According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC), "It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads." (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

NEW YORK (AP) — Health officials seeking to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus in New York state focused Wednesday on a suburban community where nine people connected with a lawyer hospitalized with the disease have now tested positive. Hundreds of people were ordered to self-quarantine as the new results pushed the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state to 11.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the disease appeared to have been passed from the lawyer to his family and other people they’re close with in New Rochelle, north of New York City, 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 hundreds of people are in quarantine in connection to the latest cases. People who’ve come into contact with them will be tested and should sequester themselves in their homes, he said. They include people who worked with the lawyer and his wife at their law firm, hospital workers who treated him, the son’s college roommate, and scores of people who attended events at their synagogue in recent weeks. Two school districts also canceled classes.

“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, New York City Mayor Bill 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.

Yeshiva University, where the 20-year-old is a student, canceled classes at one of its Manhattan campuses through at least Friday. De Blasio said two people he had close contact with — a roommate and a friend — were 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. The school district in Hastings-on-Hudson said it was closing Thursday and Friday “out of an abundance of caution” because a parent had been in contact with a person under quarantine. Mount Vernon City School District said Wednesday on their website that schools will be closed until Monday so cleaning crews can disinfect buildings.

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.

Young Israel Rabbi Reuven Fink said the lawyer is “quite ill” and asked for prayers for him and his family. He told congregants that following the quarantine order is “a sacred obligation that we all must take very seriously.”

“This is a very emotionally trying time for us all,” Fink said in a statement posted to the synagogue’s Facebook page. “When we first heard of the Coronavirus it seemed so remote. It has now come not only to our doorstep, but has pierced our lives.”

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. He said there has been no noticeable change in city public school attendance.

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, arm rests, and seat belts. Uber said it has similar protocols in place.

Also Wednesday, the city declared face masks to be temporarily in short supply, triggering consumer protection rules that make it illegal for stores to price gouge.

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.

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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.”

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Marina Villeneuve in Albany and Karen Matthews in New York City contributed to this report.

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On Twitter, follow Sisak at twitter.com/mikesisak and Peltz at twitter.com/jennpeltz

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