On Saturday, the Department of Health announced that the first person to be investigated for the virus felt unwell after returning from mainland China and sought help from a medical provider, who then contacted health officials.
The individual, who is under 40 years old, was hospitalized at Bellevue Hopsital in stable condition.
A day later, the department reported that two additional people, both over 60 years old, had also recently traveled to mainland China and had symptoms like fever, cough or shortness of breath.
Like the first individual, the second and third patients who were tested did not have another “common cause” of illness, like the flu or the cold.
The second individual was hospitalized at Flushing Hospital Medical Center, while the third person was hospitalized at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens, which is also in Flushing. Both are in stable condition.
For all three patients, their samples have been sent to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“With the best public health system in the world, New York City stands ready to respond to any confirmed cases of the coronavirus,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “I urge all New Yorkers to remain vigilant.”
As of Tuesday, the United States has at least 11 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus. The new strain of the coronavirus has affected more than 17,000 people worldwide, resulting in more than 360 deaths.
Last Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern.” The Trump administration announced travel restrictions to China, as well as screening at 20 U.S. airports.
Over the weekend, the U.S. began restricting entry for foreign nationals who have visited mainland China in the prior two weeks. Returning American citizens who spent time in Hubei province, where the novel coronavirus began, are subject to quarantine for up to 14 days.
The city’s health commissioner, Dr. Oxiris Barbot, advised New Yorkers who have traveled to Wuhan, China, in the last 14 days and are feeling unwell to call their doctors or visit a clinic.
She also recommended practicing everyday precautions like washing your hands frequently with soap and water, and covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze.
“We are continuing to work closely with our partners at the CDC, state and federal government as the coronavirus situation evolves,” Barbot said in a statement.
In the days preceding the arrival of the city’s first potential cases of the novel coronavirus, health officials and local pols urged New Yorkers to remain calm during the outbreak.
Last Wednesday, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams convened with health officials and Chinese community leaders in Sunset Park to give information to residents, particularly as the Lunar New Year holiday continues.
His office has produced and circulated a flyer about the virus in English, Chinese and Spanish.
“We want to really alleviate some of the concern,” he said. “The best way to do it is to provide as much information as possible.”
Dr. Neil Vora, director of outbreak response for the Department of Health, said it’s crucial to spread accurate information to the community, even though there’s “a lot to learn” about the new virus. Misinformation can spread quickly on social media and on the internet, he said.
“The risk to New Yorkers right now is low, but our level of preparedness is high,” Vora said.
Dr. Eitan Dickman from Maimonides Medical Center noted that their emergency department has put in place protocols to screen patients who are potentially at risk of having the novel coronavirus.
Other areas of the hospital, such as their outpatient clinics, are also ready to “rapidly assess and evaluate” patients who may be at risk.
“We are vigilant, and we are preparing,” Dickman said.
Like many other medical professionals, he added that influenza is still an issue, and recommended patients get the flu shot if they haven’t done so already.
Steve Mei, director of Chinese-American Planning Council (CPC)’s Brooklyn Community Services, said residents should “separate the facts from the fiction,” especially on social media platforms.
“WeChat is a very powerful social media tool where we get a lot of information,” Mei said. “But a lot of the information is inaccurate.”
At the Glow Community Center in Flushing last Friday, elected officials also sought to ease public nerves about the virus.
“We’re here today to relieve the anxiety of everyone,” said Councilman Peter Koo. “The sky is not falling.”
Koo noted that the perception of the outbreak locally has already hurt a lot of restaurants, particularly during Lunar New Year.
“No one wants to do banquets anymore,” he said. “They lost a lot of business.”
Some community events, like Flushing Town Hall’s Lunar New Year Chinese Temple Bazaar, which was originally scheduled for February 1, were cancelled due to growing health risks.
“The sentiment most expressed by those we consulted with was that we should cancel this event out of an abundance of caution in light of genuine public health concerns,” the organization said in a statement. “While we are saddened by the cancellation, we know that we must do what is right for our community.”
Congresswoman Grace Meng said Congress members received a briefing from federal agencies, who said though there is no proven drug yet for the virus, scientists are working on a vaccine, which could take anywhere from three months to a year to complete.
“But nobody should be panicking,” she said. “People should go about their daily routine, but be vigilant and prudent.”
Koo said his office has already received many complaints from people who have experienced xenophobic comments. Meng said the coronavirus is “not an excuse to discriminate against Asian Americans.”
As for the spread of misinformation, the congresswoman urged residents to “check your sources” and be aware of false stories and conspiracy theories.
“Be sure the information you read, hear or watch is coming from trusted and verified sources,” she said.