MINEOLA, N.Y. (WCBS 880) — Nassau County health officials are warning residents to remain vigilant as over 80 people remain under voluntary quarantine for possible coronavirus exposure.
The county’s Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Lawrence Eisenstein says 175 residents have had some sort of voluntary isolation from the public, family and friends after traveling to China.
Though there have not been any confirmed cases in the county, or the rest of New York, there are 83 people still under isolation. They must remain under quarantine for 14 days to prevent the possible spread of coronavirus, should they be infected.
“We check in with them every day for their temperature. They’re in communication with us, we’re in communication with them,” Dr. Eisenstein said.
Six people exhibited possible symptoms of the coronavirus – including coughing and a fever. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found all six tested negative for the virus.
“We discuss with them the importance of them voluntarily complying with removing themselves from contact with other people, and all of them, to this point, have understood,” the health commissioner said.
All of the hospitals in Nassau County have isolation rooms and while there have not been any mandatory quarantines, Dr. Eisenstein says they are prepared to contain any possible outbreak in New York.
“If somebody were not compliant, we would take next steps. We are prepared for all circumstances,” he says.
The news comes on the same day that President Donald Trump appointed Vice President Mike Pence to oversee the federal government's response to coronavirus.
A day after saying that the situation is "very well under control in our country,'' the president on Wednesday further tried to minimize fears of the virus spreading in the U.S. But, added that he was ready to spend “whatever’s appropriate” to stop an outbreak.
Over 80,000 people have been infected globally from the viral outbreak that began in Wuhan, China and more than 2,700 people have died.
With outbreaks reported in Italy, South Korea and Iran, officials from the CDC said Tuesday that it is inevitable that the coronavirus will spread more widely in America, where the total number of cases is at 60. On Wednesday, the first coronavirus case of unknown origin was confirmed in Northern California, a sign that the virus may already spreading in a U.S. community.
“It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen — and how many people in this country will have severe illness,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the CDC.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), told WCBS 880 that the coronavirus is likely to become a global pandemic if containment measures aren’t improved.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that he believes it's "highly probable" that coronavirus will spread to New York.
“It is highly probable that you’ll see a continuing spread of this virus. It’s highly probable that we will have people in New York State who test positive,” he said during a press conference.
He adds that the large amount of tourists that flock to the state and New York City every day puts our area at great risk and the state's Department of Health will work with area airports to make sure employees are properly trained and have access to cleaning and protective equipment.
“New York is the front door, internationally. We have people traveling here from all across the world. You see how it’s spreading and affecting different countries – Italy recently – but that will continue. Again, I think it’s highly probable and no one should be surprised when we have positive cases in New York,” Cuomo said.
The governor also plans to ask for several million dollars to assist the health department for when the virus ultimately comes to the state.
“We’ll be sending an emergency supplemental appropriations bill up next week to the Legislature, asking for an additional $40 million as an emergency supplemental appropriation for the Department of Health," Cuomo said.
The money would go to hiring additional staff, procuring equipment and any other resources necessary to respond to the potential novel coronavirus pandemic.
Cuomo will also propose legislation to grant authority to Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker to ensure local health departments and public and private hospitals statewide take certain actions and measures as needed.
The governor is also calling on the federal government to authorize the Wadsworth Center and NYC Public Health Lab to test for the virus.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said no one should take the coronavirus situation lightly, but stresses there is no cause for panic.
"New Yorkers I have often said do not scare easily, do not get intimidated, do not panic," de Blasio said. "New Yorkers are very, very consistent. They're tough, they're resolute, they help each other, they know how to deal with pretty much anything so I'm going to ask everyone who's listening to me right now — this is not the time to sow panic, this is the time to share information and help people. This can be dealt with, the places that have had the problem are the places that did not deal with reality; tat were not honest and open; that did not help people understand what to do; that did not make help available easily. We're doing the exact opposite here in New York City."
While there have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus in the city, de Blasio said all elements of the city government are in a state of high vigilance.
The city has 1,200 hospital beds that can be made available immediately, should the need arise, and public health officials have already distributed 1.5 million masks across the city. Requests are out for another 300,000 surgical masks.
He is also calling on the CDC to work with local laboratories to expedite testings and is also urging the agency to expand its testing protocol upon entry to any traveler returning from Hong Kong, Iran, Italy, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand.
The mayor said the current protocol is too narrowly focused on travelers returning from China.
Meanwhile, Syracuse University has announced it will be suspending its study abroad program in Italy due to the spread of the virus.
School officials say 342 students currently studying in Florence will be returning to the United States after spring break in March.