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New York State Deploys National Guard To Manage Coronavirus In NYC Suburb


New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said today that he is deploying the National Guard to the city of New Rochelle. It's a suburban community just north of New York City, and 1 out of every 5 coronavirus cases confirmed in the U.S. is in New Rochelle. State officials say 108 cases have been confirmed there so far. Now they're moving more aggressively to slow the spread down, creating what they're calling a containment area.

North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann was in New Rochelle today, and he joins us now. Hey, Brian.


CHANG: All right, so what do authorities mean when they're talking about creating a containment area?

MANN: Yeah, so this is going beyond closing off access to senior homes and nursing facilities, which New York did last weekend - no visitors in or out there. Now Gov. Andrew Cuomo says a lot more activity inside this one-mile-radius containment area will be restricted - a lot of closures and no large gatherings permitted.


ANDREW CUOMO: It is a dramatic action, but it is the largest cluster in the country. And this is literally a matter of life and death.

MANN: The governor didn't say exactly how many troops he's sending. And I should say also, Ailsa, that, so far, no one in New York state has died from COVID-19. But there are about 75,000 people in New Rochelle - unclear how many will be inside this one-mile containment area.

CHANG: And do health officials even know why there are so many cases of coronavirus inside New Rochelle?

MANN: Yeah, the health department has tied this back to a single individual who was sick last week. Before anyone realized what was happening, that person had contact with a lot of people in the community, especially those who visited the Young Israel synagogue - so from that, dozens of people now confirmed with COVID-19. And people are pretty confident that number will keep rising.

CHANG: OK, so then how are these new measures expected to stop the spread of the virus?

MANN: Yeah. People in New Rochelle will - this is important - still be allowed to travel, to leave their homes even after the containment area is put in place on Thursday. So it's a lot different than what we're seeing overseas in some areas. New York's health commissioner, Howard Zucker, developed this plan. He admits they're still kind of experimenting, ratcheting up the effort to see what will work, increase social distancing. So they're going to close schools, churches. Community centers will shut down; large gatherings banned for at least two weeks. Here's Dr. Zucker.


HOWARD ZUCKER: One of the places where people gather together particularly is the school systems in schools and other areas, events and daily or weekly activities. And we felt that a mile of - a radius of a mile from that spot would be effective in an effort to try to decrease the spread.

CHANG: I mean, you were in New Rochelle this afternoon. I assume you've had a chance to talk to a number of people there. How are they feeling about their safety right now?

MANN: Well, they're scared, Ailsa. I talked with Jamie Fields outside a grocery store. She's caring for her elderly mom, who's actually being treated right now for lung cancer, which means she's really vulnerable. And Jamie Fields said she wants the government to really attack this hard.

JAMIE FIELDS: This epidemic is very scary, you know, just because it's just transferring so fast. And it's just like, OK, where do we go next? What is the next step?

CHANG: So far, only one person - right? - from New Rochelle has been hospitalized for coronavirus. All the other people with confirmed cases are at home. So given that fact, why is there so much concern?

MANN: Well, as with the rest of the country, the big fear in New Rochelle is that this will get into the senior community. There's a big group of retired people living in this suburb. Health officials say they're the most vulnerable. I met Edward Grayson on the street today. He's 75 years old, and he says a lot of his neighbors are worried.

EDWARD GRAYSON: I've spoken to a number of people in the building. They're very concerned about this. But what can really be done, except be cautious, wash your hands? You just hope for the best.

MANN: I should say, Ailsa, one other big step that was announced today is the state is going to open a coronavirus testing lab right there in New Rochelle. So in the coming days, we're going to get a much better measure of just how wide this one cluster in New York goes.

CHANG: All right. That's Brian Mann from North Country Public Radio.

Thank you, Brian.

MANN: Thank you, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.