The state of New York is setting up a special coronavirus containment zone in the city of New Rochelle in Westchester County with the help of the U.S. National Guard, according to a press conference with state officials on early Wednesday.
Westchester, which currently has 108 cases and is just north of New York City, became one of the worst hotspots in the country after a Manhattan lawyer who lives in the county was infected with COVID-19. His wife, two children, and the neighbour who drove him to the hospital also contracted the disease.
The new containment zone has a 1-mile (1.6 kilometre) radius in New Rochelle, centred around the highest number of cases, and will be instituted for two weeks from Thursday, March 12, until Wednesday, March 25. The National Guard will be used to deliver food to homes in the containment area, according to Governor Andrew Cuomo. Troops will also be used to help clean the community.
“This is the single greatest public health challenge we have in the state right now,” Cuomo said in an address livestreamed on YouTube.
Cuomo said that the containment zone is intended to limit large gatherings at things like schools, business conferences, and worship services. The governor emphasised that people are free to move around as they like. There are no restrictions on moving in or out of the containment zone, according to Cuomo.
The state is placing a satellite testing facility in New Rochelle in partnership with Northwell Health in order to ramp up testing for the coronavirus. Northwell received approval from the U.S. Centres For Disease Control (CDC) on Monday night for its automated testing method, according to Cuomo. Testing has been a roadblock across the country, with most states doing just dozens rather than hundreds of tests.
Cuomo explained that it was vital to have testing capabilities inside the containment zone because, if potential patients take methods of transportation like a cab or bus to get tested, they could infect the cab driver or other passengers on the bus. Northwell aside, the CDC approved five new private labs to do testing for the new coronavirus in New York on Monday.
The schools in the containment zone include Rochelle High School, Albert Leonard Middle School, and Ward Elementary, according to a reporter from CBS New York. Governor Cuomo also announced that any schools in the state with a positive case will have to be closed temporarily for cleaning and assessment. A 7-year-old girl in the Bronx was one of the latest cases announced this week.
New York announced 31 new cases in the state since yesterday, including 10 new cases in Westchester and 17 new cases in New York City. The state currently has 173 confirmed cases, just shy of Washington state, which has the largest number of cases at 179. Washington has 22 deaths, while New York has so far not had a confirmed death from COVID-19. Neighbouring state New Jersey announced its first coronavirus-related death on Tuesday.
Just 14 of New York’s 173 cases are currently in the hospital, suggesting that most of the state’s cases have been very mild. COVID-19 has been particularly hard on people over the age of 60. At least 19 of the deaths in the U.S. have been in a single nursing home outside of Seattle.
New York City has previously advised commuters to stay home if they have the choice and avoid public transit. It’s not clear what other disruptions there may be to life for people in New Rochelle, such as the availability of public transit. It’s also not clear if other municipalities will try a similar method of containment as the number of cases creeps up by the day.
All we know for sure is that the number of cases—793 in the U.S. alone—will rise in the coming days and weeks.