On Wednesday, March 11, the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force released a strategy for mitigating the community outbreak of coronavirus in New Rochelle, a city of roughly 80,000 in Westchester County where New York State’s largest outbreak is currently underway.
The five-page document offers recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for community members, businesses, schools, assisted living facilities, community and faith organizations, and healthcare providers. The strategy is intended to be a “roadmap for other counties as needed.”
“Given the widespread community transmission in New Rochelle, New York, including involvement of faith-based organizations and health care exposures, substantial interventions at the community level should be implemented at this time, based on the urgency of protecting the health care system with expected rise in cases by slowing the spread within the community,” the document states.
In the document, the task force recommends an array of approaches, including canceling or downsizing large gatherings, expanding sick leave policies and telework, enabling distance learning for students at risk of illness, and the widespread adoption of social distancing measures.
The full document can be found in PDF form on the CDC’s website.
The situation in New Rochelle has been publicly unfolding since March 2, when a 50-year-old local attorney with no history of travel to outbreak areas tested positive for the novel coronavirus, and was hospitalized at New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. In the days following, more cases began to emerge in New Rochelle, many of them discovered by public health officials through tracing the attorney’s contacts in the community. On Tuesday, March 10, New York State announced a “containment area” around New Rochelle, where the number of identified coronavirus cases had by then grown to 108 out of a statewide count of 173.
New Rochelle’s containment area is not a mandatory quarantine. Large gatherings were suspended as of Tuesday in a one-mile radius around the Young Israel synagogue, where many of the cases that have been discovered are clustered. The National Guard has been brought in to help disinfect public spaces and help bring supplies to people who are under voluntary quarantine.
The number of identified coronavirus cases continues to grow in New Rochelle and in several other hotspots around the nation, including Washington State, California, and Massachusetts. As of the state’s daily coronavirus public briefing on Wednesday, March 11, New York State’s confirmed case count was 216, with 121 cases in Westchester County and 1 in Ulster. Within hours of the state briefing, a second case was announced by Ulster County officials.
With CDC currently not publishing important data, such as the number of negative test results and results from private and state-run labs, a few researchers and reporters have launched a collaboration called the COVID Tracking Project to keep count of the most recent numbers on how many people have been tested, how many cases have been confirmed, and how many deaths have been traced to the virus.
Public health experts estimate that the true number of novel coronavirus infections is far greater than those that have been confirmed. Delays and severe test kit shortages have left public officials and patients in the dark about the true extent of the epidemic. As of Monday, March 9, an investigation by The Atlantic found that only 4,384 people had been tested across the nation. On the next day, March 10, the New York Times published an in-depth report on how researchers in Seattle were able to uncover the first evidence of community outbreak in the US, despite repeated stonewalling and obstruction by federal and state officials.
Meanwhile, life in New Rochelle goes on despite the coronavirus: Gothamist’s Jake Offenhartz paid the afflicted city a visit, and found locals coping with life in the outbreak zone with a mix of anxiety, gallows humor, confusion, and—in some cases—beer.
“You know it’s not such a big deal since they haven’t canceled the [New York City St. Patrick’s Day] parades,” local college junior Liam Greer told Offenhartz—but since then, they have.