A Manhattan lawyer who contracted the 2019 novel coronavirus was in critical condition Wednesday, and his wife, son, daughter, and several neighbors were infected, too.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the new cases—bringing New York’s total number of confirmed patients to 11—were all linked to attorney, who lives in Westchester County. Cuomo has said that the man had an underlying health condition, putting him at increased risk for severe infection.
The infected lawyer checked into a suburban hospital on Feb. 27 with respiratory problems and was reportedly diagnosed four days later. He remained in critical condition at the New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center in Manhattan, according to health officials. The firm was said to be a boutique seven-lawyer practice in Manhattan located across 42nd Street from Grand Central Terminal, where the initial patient reportedly commuted on the Metro-North Railroad from a home in New Rochelle.
“We’re dealing with a coronavirus epidemic,” said Cuomo. “We have a bigger problem, which is a fear pandemic, and the anxiety here is outpacing the reality of the situation.”
At a news conference on Wednesday, Cuomo said the man’s 20-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter were also confirmed cases and that they would remain quarantined at their home in New Rochelle.
“I am shocked about this news,” said Hilary Kolodin, a former client of the infected attorney, whose identity has not been released by authorities. “[He] is a wonderful family man and person and treated what was a very emotional and personal case with amazing care and insight. He got me through the worst time in my life, and my heart is broken that he and his family are going through this.”
“I am heartbroken for him and his wife and kids,” she added.
Another woman, the first case in New York, was previously reported to be in self-isolation at home after returning from travel abroad in Iran.
Officials at Yeshiva University confirmed early Wednesday that the lawyer’s college-age son had tested positive for the virus, and that they had begun their own countermeasures.
“We have unfortunately received news this morning that our student has tested positive for COVID-19,” the private university announced on Wednesday morning in a press release. “Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family as well as to all those affected.” The school said it would cancel all classes on Wilf Campus in Washington Heights on Wednesday but that no other operations would change.
“We understand that the recent news is concerning, and we wanted to reassure you that we have been working closely with NYC health officials and outside specialists, all day and through this evening, to take every necessary precaution to ensure the safety of our community,” said a statement from the school.
Meanwhile, the attorney’s teenage daughter reportedly attends SAR Academy and High School in the Bronx, which has been shut down out of an abundance of caution, according to the city’s health authority.
“The source of the COVID-19 infection is unknown,” said a release from New York City’s Health Department. “The Health Department has provided onsite guidance at all three locations and will be tracking close contacts of the family. Disease detectives from the Health Department are identifying anyone who had close contact with these three individuals for coronavirus testing.”
Westchester County Health Commissioner Dr. Sherlita Amler on Tuesday directed Young Israel of New Rochelle, the synagogue the lawyer’s family reportedly attended, to halt all services immediately “and for the foreseeable future” over potential exposure.
“Congregants of the Temple who attended services on February 22, and a funeral and a bat mitzvah at the temple on February 23 must self-quarantine until at the very earliest March 8,” said a press release from the county department. “Those who do not self-quarantine will be mandated to by the county department of health to do so.”
Cuomo reiterated on Wednesday that officials expect many more confirmed cases in New York, but that was no reason to panic. “By definition, the more you test, the more people you will find who test positive,” he told reporters.
As Oren Barzilay, President of FDNY EMS Local 2507, told The Daily Beast on Wednesday: “Everybody knows that New York City is the capital of the world.”
“We have a lot of people on our transit system day-in and day-out, so the probability of cross-contamination is very high,” said Barzilay. “Should this not be controlled in the near future, we are anticipating that more people will be infected with this.”
As of Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had reported 129 cases in the United States, of which 80 were picked up through the public health system in 13 states. (The agency has noted states may be able to confirm additional cases before reporting them to the federal government.) The remainder of cases were related to State Department-chartered planes from the virus’s epicenter in Wuhan, China, or the disastrous Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan. Ten people had died in the United States as of early Wednesday, and public health emergencies were declared this week in Washington State; Florida; Bexar County, Texas; and Los Angeles County, California.
Local health officials in New York, for their part, promised transparency in the days to come.
“Now, more than ever, New Yorkers must come together as a city to limit the spread of COVID-19. If you have symptoms like cough, fever, or shortness of breath, call your health-care provider,” NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot said in a statement. “The Health Department will do everything in our power to minimize the disruption caused by this evolving situation, and we will continue to communicate openly and honestly with New Yorkers.”