As two more in NYC tested for coronavirus, Chinese communities fear hate crimes

February 5, 2020 Mary Frost
A health professional explains how a medical mask must fit in order to be protective. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
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Two more people in New York City are being tested for the novel coronavirus, bringing the total number to five, the city’s Health Department said Wednesday.

As the count increases, officials and members of the Asian and Chinese community worry about what they see as an increase in xenophobia in the city. Several days ago a woman wearing a medical facemask was attacked at a Manhattan Chinatown subway station. Police are investigating the incident as a possible hate crime.

Sunset Park and Bensonhurst have the highest number of Chinese residents in the city. Councilmembers Mark Treyger and Justin Brannan, Assemblymember William Colton, Asian and Chinese community leaders and city officials plan a rally against xenophobia in Bensonhurst on Thursday.

These latest two “people under investigation” (shortened to “PUI” by the Centers for Disease Control) recently traveled to New York City from China and were suffering from fever and cough or shortness of breath. Other common causes like the flu were ruled out, the Health Department said.

Both people are under 40 years of age. One has been hospitalized and the other did not have symptoms severe enough to require hospitalization.

“Per CDC guidance, that individual will remain under appropriate isolation, precautions and daily monitoring by the Health Department,” the city said in a statement.

Like the previous three cases, samples are being sent to the CDC in Atlanta for testing, and will take a minimum of 36-48 hours, depending on CDC’s coronavirus testing capacity.

Of the three previously suspected individuals, one test report has come back negative, and two are still pending

“New York City is on high alert and prepared to handle any confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement on Wednesday. “My message to New Yorkers remains the same: If you have the travel history and are exhibiting symptoms, please see your health provider immediately.”

Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot said the department expected to see more people alerting their doctors at the onset of symptoms. “This is exactly what we prepared for and is evidence that the system in place is working as it should,” she said.

De Blasio has been urging the CDC to speed up the bureaucratic process so the city can start running the coronavirus test itself.

“We asked for [the test] a week ago, we’re still asking for it, they better pull out all the stops because the faster they do that, the better off everyone will be,” de Blasio told reporters at a press conference on Sunday.

On Wednesday, the CDC told reporters in a telebriefing that the FDA signed emergency use authorization on Wednesday that would allow test kits to be sent out to more than 100 testing labs in the U.S. and some outside of the U.S. as well.

“By next week, we expect enhanced lab capabilities,” Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said. The CDC’s test measures the amount of viral RNA in the patient’s blood or saliva.

The kits would be “a starting place for greater commercial availability,” she added.

There are now 11 confirmed cases in the United States and more than 20,000 worldwide.

Several planes carrying passengers from Wuhan China are on their way to three states in the U.S.: Travis Air Force Base in Sacramento, Calif., Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, Calif., Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, and Eppley Airfield in Omaha, Nev., according to the CDC. These planes will be met by a team of CDC personnel, and passengers will be issued quarantine orders upon arrival.

The novel coronavirus is a strain that has not been previously detected in humans. Scientists suspect that the virus can spread even while a person has no symptoms, which include fever, cough, shortness of breath, diarrhea and sometimes pneumonia.

Washing hands with soap or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is the number one way to ward off infection, health experts say. People should also avoid touching their faces with unwashed hands, cover their mouths with their elbow while coughing or sneezing, avoid contact with sick people who have recently returned from China, and stay away from wild game, which can carry the virus.

The coronavirus family includes SARS, MERS and the common cold, and is zoonotic, meaning it jumps from animals (frequently bats) to humans.

While NYC health officials say face masks are not necessary yet, it doesn’t hurt to wear them. In order to effectively block out airborne viruses, masks rated N95 are required. According to the CDC, N95 respirators filter out at least 95 percent of airborne particles if worn correctly, which means with an airtight seal between the mask and the face. Mask shortages have been reported at shops across the city.

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