NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. – At the center of one of the nation's biggest clusters of coronavirus cases, restaurant owner Joshua Berkowitz has adopted what he calls a “drop and dash” method of delivering food to customers — including many in quarantine.
“I'm afraid for their safety, and they’re afraid for my safety,” he said Wednesday. “I don't want to have contact with them.”
Many shops and restaurants were open but empty inside a “containment area” in New Rochelle, a New York City suburb, where residents described a deep sense of anxiety.
The town is at the center of an outbreak of over 120 cases in Westchester County, out of over 200 statewide. State officials on Tuesday called for closing schools, houses of worship and any other spaces were large numbers of people gather within a 1-mile radius (1.6 kilometers) of a point near a synagogue where an infected person had attended events.
State officials have stressed it is not a lockdown, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that all actions have been taken through mutual agreement and that the state has not invoked any legal authority. National Guard troops are expected beginning Thursday to help clean public spaces and deliver food to people who are in quarantine.
As he walked through town at lunchtime, Hugh Price carried a bottle of homemade sanitizer sent to him by his daughters in Florida. He worries, he said, about his many neighbors who are under quarantine.
“I think there is a weariness," he said. "You're just more mindful of who you have contact with and the nature of the contact.”
The coronavirus causes a disease called COVID-19 that has stricken thousands across the globe but usually presents only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For older adults and people with other health problems, it can cause complications or sometimes death. Most people recover.
People with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover, according to the World Health Organization, which declared the global outbreak a pandemic Wednesday. The virus first exploded in China, where more than 80,000 people have been diagnosed and more than 58,000 have so far recovered.
Berkowitz, owner of the Eden Wok restaurant, inside the containment area, said customers have been grateful for deliveries. Many fell, he said, as though New Rochelle is under a black cloud — and he sees part of his goal to make them feel like human beings.
The Westchester outbreak began to emerge after a 50-year-old lawyer was hospitalized with COVID-19. Some of his relatives and friends later tested positive. Many members of a synagogue where he had attended events were asked to quarantine themselves. Its rabbi also tested positive.
Cuomo announced Wendesday that the state Health Department will grant $200,000 to a food bank in New Rochelle. Nine schools are closed in the containment area, and the funding is intended to help feed any student or family who relies on free school lunches.
Everywhere, officials, residents and storekeepers were taking new precautions.
Crews at New Rochelle’s commuter rail station are disinfecting turnstiles, handrails and other surfaces twice a day. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said Wednesday that a “dedicated cleaning crew” is stationed at the suburban stop.
Chairs were empty Wednesday morning at The Dugout babershop, just outside the containment area, where owner Kenny Rivera said there would typically be several customers. He said he appreciated the risks posed by the virus, especially to the elderly, but thought some measures were unnecessary.
“I think the National Guard is a bit much,” he said.
Jose Felipe, who owns the New Rochelle Grocery Store, said workers have been wiping down doors, shopping baskets and carts up to 10 times a day. Toiletries, bleach and Lysol have been selling fast.
“We've noticed there's been a diminished interest in produce items, which are items you can touch, accessible to everybody," he said. "So canned goods or anything that is sealed is selling.”
Chris Ehrmann is a corps member for Report for America, a nonprofit organization that supports local news coverage, in a partnership with The Associated Press for Connecticut. The AP receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.