NEW ROCHELLE, NY — Governor Andrew Cuomo came to New Rochelle on Friday and took the opportunity to make snarky comments that appeared to blame residents for the spread of coronavirus in New York.
“We’re in New Rochelle today where we had the first hot spot in the nation,” said Cuomo. “There was no such thing as a ‘hot spot’ before New Rochelle had a hot spot.”
“Congratulations!” said Cuomo. “New Rochelle, created a new term now used by every American, ‘hot spot’.”
Cuomo made his remarks Friday during his daily press beiefing, held on the southern edge of the New Rochelle Containment Zone, on the campus of Iona College.
He went on to credit New Rochelle residents for ending the “hot spot” and bending the curve because people stayed in doors and socially distanced.
“The New Rochelle hot spot, that was all done by New Rochelle,” said Cuomo. “It was no act of God, it was no external force. It happened because of what people in New Rochelle did.”
Cuomo’s remarks have caused consternation among some City officials, speaking on background they questioned why the Governor would say New Rochelle created the term “hot spot” — or the need for the term?
On the record, New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson, not addressing Cuomo’s blame-shifting said “the Governor made clear that individual behavior is the key to overcoming this crisis, and that our actions in New Rochelle were a good illustration both of how a hotspot can originate and how it can be subsequently controlled.”
Lawrence Garbuz, the second person in New York State to test positive for COVID-19, and the first person in New Rochelle to test positive, became symptomatic on February 22nd. Garbuz attended services at Young Israel of New Rochelle that day, and a funeral, and a bat mitzvah on ￼February 23rd. He was admitted to NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital in Bronxville on February 28th. He was diagnosed with coronavirus on March 2nd and transferred to New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City where he remained for weeks in a medically induced coma until the end of March.
Garbuz’ wife, son and daughter tested positive on March 4th along with the man who drove Garbuz to the hospital, his friend, the friend’s wife, two sons and daughter. 8 more people tested positive on March 5th, 9 more tested positive on March 6th, another 23 tested positive on March 7th, bringing the total in New Rochelle to 49 cases.
On March 10th when Governor Cuomo announced the two-week Containment Zone policy in New Rochelle, marking off a one-mile radius around Young Israel New Rochelle, there were 108 cases in New Rochelle. New Rochelle received worldwide media attention as the first, and what later proved to be only, “Containment Zone” in the United States.
Less than two weeks later, on March 20th, Cuomo announced the entire state would go on PAUSE (“Policies Assure Uniform Safety for Everyone”) on March 22nd, in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19 and avert the expected wave of patients to crash the healthcare system. There was no “wave” and thousands of beds provided by the Federal government at Cuomo’s request were never occupied.
Mr. Garbuz contracted COVID in mid-February at a time where it is now estimated 10,000+ people had the virus in New York (and growing exponentially).
As late as March 1st, the Governor was telling the public the general risk in New York was low. By then Mr. Garbuz was in critical condition at hospital, in a coma.
The actual designation for New Rochelle on March 10th was “containment zone” not “hot spot”. No City official designated New Rochelle a “hot spot” and no one in New Rochelle asked for the Governor to declare a “containment zone” or even use that term or send the National Guard to New Rochelle
Whether it be “containment zone” or “hot spot” these are terms the Governor applied to New Rochelle not terms created by New Rochelle.
More to the point, the word “create” can reasonably be construed to mean New Rochelle created the need for the term, an implication that New Rochelle residents bear culpability for the spread of coronavirus in New York.
This is grossly unfair.
If anything, Mr. Garbuz and members of the Young Israel New Rochelle schul are victims of a failure by government officials here and abroad to take measures sooner to both prevent spread and to warn people of spread. He and members of the schul are certainly not the cause of the spread in New York.
Any responsibility for the supposed need to label New Rochelle a “hot spot” has nothing to do with members of Young Israel of New Rochelle including Mr. Garbuz, his family and his neighbors, innocently attending religious services in the weeks before Cuomo announced the first known case of COVID-19 in New York, a woman from Manhattan who had traveled to Iran.
Two weeks after Garbuz had contracted COVID-19, in a statement on March 1st, Cuomo dismissed concerns of community spread of the coronavirus.
“There is no reason for undue anxiety.” said Cuomo. “The general risk in New York remains low.”
That turned out not to be true.
Subsequent anti-body testing would later show that by March 1st, there were thousands of undetected coronavirus cases in New York.
In New York, for example, the model shows that the first 10 infected people could have been walking the streets of the city as early as the last week in January, or as late as the middle of February. From there, the infections in the centers of the outbreak grew exponentially.
Government officials were warned but failed to act on those warnings.
In mid-February, a month before New York City schools were closed, New York City and San Francisco already had more than 600 people with unidentified infections…Dr. Vespignani said he and his research team warned officials of the silent spread, posting some of their early projections in mid-February. “We were talking to officials here, and it was the same reaction we got in Italy, in the U.K., in Spain,” Dr. Vespignani said. “They told me, ‘OK, that’s happening on your computer, not in reality.’ Look,” he added, “No one’s going to shut down a country based on a model.”
Garbuz was not an “index patient” or “patient zero” — or “one” or “two” or “three”. He was more likely patient 10,001.
Talk of the Sound reached out to various state and local officials for comment.
A spokesperson for the Governor stressed that Governor Cuomo’s remarks were intended to commend New Rochelle for residents for following mitigation practices.
Westchester County Executive George Latimer did not respond.
New Rochelle City Manager Charles Strome declined to comment and referred questions to New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson.
By way of background, the Containment Zone period was implemented starting March 12th and ran until midnight March 25th.
On the day the Containment Zone ended New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson, who was pointedly not invited to Cuomo’s press briefing on Friday, held at Iona College just a short walk from City Hall, told Talk of the Sound he was proud of how New Rochelle residents responded in March.
“New Rochelle residents did an exemplary job of complying with the terms of the containment zone and other restrictions were in place here,” said Bramson. “The vast majority of New Rochelleans recognize that it was important to follow the guidance of Public Health professionals and act in a responsible fashion and I am proud that our City rose to the occasion under the most difficult of circumstances.”
The mindset in New Rochelle, and the rest of the country, has undergone a sea change since March 10th when Governor Cuomo shocked the country by calling out the National Guard and declaring an ominous sounding “Containment Zone” in the Wykagyl-area in New Rochelle’s tony North End. He shut down schools, houses of worship and other large gathering places in parts of New Rochelle and neighboring Tuckahoe.
At the time, it appeared New Rochelle was in a unique situation that it would have to weather for two weeks but one that would soon end with a return to normal. Instead, New Rochelle exited the containment zone period in a world transformed beyond what few could have imagined at the beginning of March.
After Lawrence Garbuz woke from a coma, Adina Garbuz posted on Facebook on March 18th:
“(Lawrence) is trying to comprehend a world where no one goes out, no social gatherings, no religious services, no Purim!!”￼
“This went from being a New Rochelle specific containment zone to a state wide containment zone to being nearly a national containment zone in a span of days,” said Bramson on March 25th. “I don’t think anything in our prior experience has prepared us for the sort of challenge that moves so rapidly that touches every aspect of public policy in such a radical way.”
This begs the question, why Governor Cuomo continues to treat New Rochelle as a punching bag, singling out New Rochelle residents generally and YINR members in particular when New Rochelle represented a relative handful of cases out of many thousands, most in New York City not Westchester, all while Cuomo was tweeting that the risk of infection was low.