New York to close schools, houses of worship in suburban center of coronavirus outbreak

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Schools and “major gathering places” in a part of the New York City suburb of New Rochelle will shut down for two weeks in an effort to contain the coronavirus outbreak at its local epicenter, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Tuesday.

A man walks near the Young Israel orthodox synagogue in New Rochelle, New York, U.S., March 10, 2020. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

The shutdown, which begins on Thursday and is due to last until March 25, affects an area of New Rochelle in Westchester County that measures 1 mile (1.61 km) in diameter. The county accounts for more than 100 of the state’s 173 confirmed cases, the governor said.

“This will be a period of disruption for the local community,” Cuomo said at a news conference. “It is a dramatic action, but it is the largest cluster in the country. And this is literally a matter of life and death.”

Cuomo said he was calling in the National Guard to the containment area to assist with cleaning public spaces and to deliver food to homes.

The number of cases of the highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the virus has risen steadily to 804 in the United States. There have been 28 deaths, most of them in Washington state, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. New Jersey on Tuesday reported the state’s first death.

The City School District of New Rochelle said the containment measure will affect three public schools which fall within the zone, and the schools will close on Wednesday.

“The State will work with impacted schools to ensure any child who currently depends on food assistance programs will continue to receive those benefits during this 2-week period,” Cuomo wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.

Northwell Health, a private healthcare provider, will set up a satellite facility in New Rochelle to conduct coronavirus testing, Cuomo said.

The New York governor’s office was still working with the mayor of New Rochelle and the Westchester County Executive to identify the list of businesses and facilities that would be closed, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa said.

“It’s major gathering places,” Cuomo said, adding that the list included a Jewish temple in addition to schools.

The group of cases in Westchester County emerged after an attorney who lives in New Rochelle and works in Manhattan became the second person in New York to be diagnosed with the virus last week.

Some cases in New Rochelle have been traced to the Young Israel Synagogue of New Rochelle, where the attorney attended services last month. The synagogue, which public health officials closed last week, is at the center of the containment zone.

Cuomo distinguished the containment measure from a quarantine and said it would not limit people’s movement into and out of the area.

New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said in a statement on Tuesday that he believed the risk generally to people in New York remained low, and Cuomo urged New Yorkers not to panic.

“If you are not a member of the vulnerable population then there is no reason for excess anxiety,” Cuomo said.

Reporting by Gabriella Borter; additional reporting by Maria Caspani; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Rosalba O’Brien

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