ALBANY – Twelve members of two Buffalo-area families who recently traveled back from Italy are quarantined in their homes as they are being tested for possible coronavirus infections, state officials said Tuesday.
Administration officials said six of the dozen family members are symptomatic and are being tested; precisely how ill those individuals are was uncertain Tuesday morning.
Also uncertain is when the state might have the test results finished for the families, though the federal government over the weekend approved a plan to have the state conduct testing for coronavirus. The state is also expanding testing sites to hospitals and other public and private labs. On Sunday, the state's first coronavirus case was revealed less than 12 hours after the woman, a 39-year-old Manhattan health care worker who had recently traveled to Iran, was tested.
The Erie County Health Department confirmed Tuesday morning that it is testing individuals in Erie County and following state and federal guidelines. "We will not be commenting on who or how many. There are no confirmed cases in our county at this time,'' said the health agency's spokesperson, Kara Kane.
The health agency later said the test specimens collected in Erie County are being sent to the Wadsworth Center, the state health department's lab in Albany. Local officials said those being tested recently traveled to Northern Italy, where there have a high number of coronavirus cases. A Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracking system shows there are 2,036 confirmed virus cases, and 52 deaths, in Italy.
The specimens from Erie County were driven from Buffalo to Albany during the day Tuesday. Officials in Erie County are planning to address the media in Buffalo at 11 a.m. Wednesday about the situation.
The State University of New York, meanwhile, is considering calling all of its study abroad students to return home.
Gov. Andrew C. Cuomo, on a Long Island radio show, said a second confirmed case was found overnight in Westchester County. The man lives in the county and works in Manhattan. He has an underlying respiratory issue, Cuomo said; he did not travel to any of the virus watch countries, but he did recently travel to Miami. State health commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said that trip was prior to the period where the man would have been infectious.
The governor said the Westchester man, 50, is an attorney who commutes to New York City and has children in school. “So, we’re tracking all that down," he said. It appears the case is the first in New York of a community transmission of the virus. Cuomo said the man is in a New York City hospital and that it is unknown at this point how he commuted – whether by public transit or his car – to his job in Manhattan.
New York City officials said the man is in critical condition. Westchester County officials said a synagogue the man attends has stopped conducting services and people who attended a recent funeral and bat mitzvah need to quarantine themselves until at least March 8.
New York State saw its first coronavirus case Sunday; a woman who traveled with her husband to Iran tested positive Sunday evening. She and her husband are at home in isolation and Cuomo believes she was not contagious at the time of her flight back from Iran last Tuesday.
Cuomo Tuesday morning signed legislation, pushed through overnight at the Capitol, releasing $40 million to be earmarked for coronavirus response and prevention efforts by the state health department. The measure also gives Cuomo extraordinary powers to take actions, including suspension of certain laws, in times of a state emergency – which is defined as anything from a terrorist attack and disease outbreak to flooding and even “volcanic activity.”
Meanwhile, the New York Post reported Tuesday morning that a private Jewish day school in the Bronx was closed Tuesday because of "a suspected case of coronavirus in the community." The school is the Salanter Akiba Riverdale Academy.
Cuomo said one of the children of the Westchester man who tested positive attends that Bronx school. The man, who lives with his family in New Rochelle, is in a New York City hospital.
The governor also said he will amend the terms of a plan he proposed to require a certain number of paid sick days for employees to also include prohibitions against employers terminating workers who are required to stay home from work while quarantined for coronavirus.
The individuals in Erie County being tested are considered by public health officials to be "persons under investigation,'' or PUIs. A positive test for coronavirus is considered "presumptive" by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention until a final test is performed by the federal agency.
With more states now doing their own coronavirus testing, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, said the federal agency will no longer report PUI numbers. In a phone briefing with reporters, she said the growing number of cases in the United States, including New York and other Northeastern states in recent days, “may be the beginning” of what has occurred in other countries. She said the federal government is taking an “aggressive posture" at containment measures.
For his part, Cuomo continued a national media tour Tuesday, appearing on MSNBC and CNN. On one of the appearances, he cautioned the public to stop having a "manic obsession" when new cases of coronavirus are reported. He said New York will end up having "dozens and dozens and dozens" of cases of the virus.
The Democrat said officials are facing a "communications challenge" to get people's expectations "in line with reality." He added: "And we have much more anxiety than this situation actually merits."