Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Friday that “there is little doubt” that someone in New York City will soon become infected with the rapidly-spreading Coronavirus.
“It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when,” de Blasio told reporters at Emergency Management headquarters in Brooklyn. “We have to act on the assumption that there will unfortunately be cases sooner rather than later in New York City.”
First detected just last month in Wuhan, China, as of noon on Friday, the virus has spread to seven countries, including two confirmed cases in the U.S., in Seattle and Chicago. Both of the U.S. individuals had recently traveled to Wuhan, which is currently quarantined along with several other Chinese cities. The CDC is monitoring dozens of other individuals in the U.S.
The mayor emphasized that there are as yet many unknowns. The situation is “emerging very quickly. We’re being very vigilant and taking an active stance,” he said.
“Now, as I mentioned we do not yet know enough about this virus. We know it is in the same family as some very dangerous viruses like SARS and also some mild viruses. But what we do know for sure is there are 26 people dead all over the world right now and that’s cause enough to be deeply concerned about where this may be taking us.”
Because New York City has the largest Chinese immigrant population in the United States, with many living in Brooklyn, the odds are great that Coronavirus will appear, he said.
There are more than 450,000 Asians in Brooklyn, according to Paul Mak, founder of the Brooklyn Chinese American Association. There are currently no known cases of Coronavirus in the Brooklyn Asian communities yet, he told the Brooklyn Eagle.
“For our agency part, daycare students as well as all staff returned from China must be quarantined for seven days,” he said.
The association maintains close contact with area hospitals. “In fact, Maimonides Medical Center, NYU Lutheran as well as Manhattan Downtown Hospital all serve on our agency’s Health Advisory Council. We also work closely with NY Methodist Hospital [New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital],” he said.
Two weeks to incubate There are likely people walking the streets of New York City who are infected but not yet showing symptoms. The virus takes two weeks to incubate, NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot said.
“I want to acknowledge upfront that this evolving situation of this new virus may be cause for concern in the community. And this is not a situation where it is a concern for alarm but it is one of vigilance,” she said.
Symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Across the globe, more than 900 people are confirmed infected. As of noon on Friday, 26 have died, all in China.
There is a simple test to detect Coronavirus, and protocols have been put into place for people arriving at JFK from Wuhan. Someone showing symptoms with a travel history raising red flags will be transported to the nearest hospital, Barbot said. The closest hospitals are “Jamaica, Long Island Jewish, Queens Presbyterian and SUNY Downstate.”
Barbot also emphasized the evolving nature of the crisis. “This morning the CDC issued the highest level of travel advisory,” she said. “Avoid unnecessary travel to Wuhan.”
The risk is “currently low” in NYC she said. “But still, we don’t know exactly how it spreads.”
At this point, it appears that the virus, in the same family as the SARS virus, is spread through prolonged exposure to an infected person, the mayor said, but that could change.
The mayor fretted that the CDC was not tracking closely enough travelers who moved from Wuhan to other locales before flying into the U.S.
“The CDC needs to be more thorough,” he said.
Before the press conference, the mayor had met with top officials from the NYC Department of Health, NYC Emergency Management, FDNY, NYPD, Health + Hospitals and other agencies for a tabletop exercise on handling an outbreak.
“We’re presenting ourselves with scenarios,” Barbot said.
“Go about your everyday lives, and pay attention to basic hygiene,” Barbot said. This includes washing hands frequently, covering your mouth if you sneeze or cough, and being mindful of prolonged exposure to someone who has recently been to Wuhan or who shows symptoms.
“If you have been to Wuhan or other areas [with Coronavirus] or have had contact with people who have, and have symptoms, get to a doctor immediately. Do not hesitate. We’ll help you if you need help,” de Blasio said