Coronavirus spreads in Brooklyn as statewide cases surge
The number of confirmed novel coronavirus cases in Brooklyn increased over the weekend, bringing the total number of patients in New York City to 20, with many more in either voluntary or mandatory isolation.
New York state has 143 confirmed cases, putting it “right up at the top in the country,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday.
Two Brooklyn men, one 68 and the other 22, are among the latest New Yorkers to land in area hospitals, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot told reporters at a press conference on Monday. A 75-year-old Queens man has also come down with the quickly-moving disease.
The older men are both in intensive care units. The 68-year-old Brooklyn man, identified by officials as “Case 14,” has diabetes and a heart condition. His girlfriend is also being tested.
The 75-year-old Queens man, Case 16, is in trouble, de Blasio said. He has diabetes, developed a fever, and then progressed to pneumonia and shortness of breath.
“I’m very worried about him,” the mayor said.
Case 15, the 22-year-old, is a vaper, de Blasio said. He’s in stable condition in a private hospital, and his mom and sister have been placed in quarantine in Brooklyn.
A 13-year-old girl is in quarantine with her parents, de Blasio said.
The executive director of the Port Authority, Rick Cotton, has tested positive and is reportedly working from home. Cotton’s wife, Central Park Conservancy President Elizabeth W. Smith, also has the virus.
In addition, the first EMS worker in the city has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the New York Post. The worker is a member of the FDNY Emergency Medical Services, assigned to Brooklyn. Oren Barzilay, president of FDNY EMS Local 2507, told the Post that the infected person and five of his EMS co-workers are under mandatory quarantine. He also treated 11 patients while on duty, who are being contacted by the city.
Officials wanted people to know that most people catching the coronavirus will experience mild symptoms, and the majority of the current 20 confirmed cases are not hospitalized. Most people with serious symptoms are over 50 with underlying medical conditions, such as heart problems or diabetes. Children are the least affected by the virus.
“I need people stay home when sick,” Barbot said. When asked when the epidemic would lose steam, she said, “My best guess is September, but there’s no telling. Be prepared now.”
In no hurry to shut down schools, neighborhoods
New York City is not in a hurry to close schools or neighborhoods if it can be avoided, de Blasio said. Rather, the city will selectively close schools with “pinpoint accuracy” to disinfect and clean, then likely reopen after 24 hours, he said.
The disease can be serious, but “people’s livelihoods also matter,” de Blasio said. “We can’t lose sight of everything. People need money to pay the rent, buy food. The economy is going through a real shock, and we don’t want to exacerbate that.”
New York City will take it day by day, de Blasio said, adding he was happy to see that people were taking instructions seriously on how to deal with coronavirus.
“We’re going to watch the progression. All options are on the table. I have a lot of emergency powers I could invoke” if need be, he said.
In the meantime, small businesses devastated by the coronavirus panic — like restaurants and shops in Brooklyn and Queens’ Asian neighborhoods — have been offered a lifeline by the city in the form of no-interest loans and grants.
Some restaurants in Sunset Park have been forced to close during the week due to a lack of customers, Brooklyn Asian-American Civilian Observation Patrol chair Louie Liu said in February. Seafood markets in the neighborhood are losing customers, particularly from cancelled orders from restaurants.
Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus fired a member of her staff last week after the worker shared an anti-Asian message on Facebook that urged patrons to avoid Chinese restaurants during the epidemic.
There have been “not many but some painful incidents,” City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said, describing a video of an Asian man being attacked on the subway. “Let’s all rise up and handle this together,” he said.
Businesses with fewer than 100 employees who have seen sales decreases of 25 percent or more will be eligible for zero interest loans of up to $75,000 to help mitigate losses in profit, de Blasio said.
The city is also offering small businesses with fewer than five employees a grant to cover 40 percent of payroll costs for two months (an average of $6,000) to help retain employees.
Cases from last week in Brooklyn
An elderly Brooklyn woman in her 80s remains in critical condition after she was confirmed to have the virus last week. The patient is getting better, de Blasio said on Friday.
Also in Brooklyn, a 32-year-old health care worker who saw patients on Feb. 29 at the King David Center, a nursing home in Bensonhurst, tested positive. He was wearing a mask and gloves when he saw the seniors, the mayor said on Friday. The city has put 11 residents of the home into isolation. The man’s main residence is in Midtown Manhattan and he also has an apartment in Fort Lee, New Jersey, where he is in quarantine.
City Councilmember Justin Brannan said Friday that the CDC has visited the nursing home and made sure it was stocked with respirators and surgical masks.
In addition, two Manhattan residents and two Bronx residents with ties to a large cluster of cases in Westchester have tested positive. A 51-year-old-man from the Upper West Side who recently contracted the coronavirus was also associated with the growing number of Westchester cases.
De Blasio said the virus is not transmitted easily through the air. “It has to be direct, immediate contact, and it has to be a transfer of fluids like a sneeze, a cough or spitting that goes directly into your eyes, nose or mouth.”
Though the CDC has said that surface-to-person spread is likely not the virus’ primary mode of transmission, it may still be possible to pick up the virus on a contaminated surface and become infected after introducing it into ones eyes, nose or mouth. Hence the importance of washing hands with soap and water, or, when soap is unavailable, using hand sanitizer with an alcohol content over 60 percent.
De Blasio suggested that those who could should wait for less crowded subway trains or telecommute if possible. He added that employers should consider staggering work hours.
As of Monday, March 9, the coronavirus has killed 3,882 people worldwide, with more than 111,318 global cases reported.
— Additional reporting by John Alexander