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Cuomo Signs Coronavirus BillGovernor Andrew M. Cuomo signs coronavirus legislation during a ceremony in the Red Room at the State Capitol. (Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced Wednesday that more individuals in Westchester County had tested positive for Coronavirus. Patients in Buffalo, Oneida and Suffolk Counties tested negative for the virus.  Later Thursday Cuomo was back to report more cases had been confirmed, a friend of a man who had flown home from China, plus the friend's wife, two sons, and daughter.  The Westchester County cases brings the total of confirmed cases in the state to 11, nearly doubling the number of cases previously reported.

"A fifty year old attorney tested positive, his wife his wife has also tested positive, his 20 year old son has also tested positive, his daughter has also tested positive, and his neighbor who drove him to the hospital also tested positive," Cuomo said. "The son is 20 years old and attends Yeshiva University. The daughter is 14 years old and is in the SAR school. And the neighbor is not just a neighbor, but actually drove the attorney to the hospital and therefore was in the car with the attorney in that closed environment - and the neighbor tested positive.  Another person who was being tested who came in contact with the 50 year old lawyer, a friend of the lawyer's who he spent time with and in close proximity in a number of situations. That person also tested positive. We then tested that person's wife, two sons, and daughter, and they all tested positive."

When the first confirmed novel coronavirus case was announced Sunday.  Cuomo advised, "There is no reason for undue anxiety -- the general risk remains low in New York. We are diligently managing this situation and will continue to provide information as it becomes available."

Last week Cuomo signed a new law authorizing $40 million to hire additional staff and procure equipment and any other resources necessary to respond to the virus.  He  also announced he would amend his Paid Sick Leave budget proposal to specifically protect people who are required to stay home from work because they are being isolated or quarantined as a result of the novel coronavirus from being fired.  He also spoke to Vice President Mike Pence to urge approval of New York's coronavirus test.  He said the state woould immediately start testing at Wadsworth Lab.

"This approval will expedite wait time and improve New York's ability to more effectively manage the Coronavirus situation as it unfolds," Cuomo said.

While there have been no cases in Tompkins County, the Tompkins County Workers' Center called for employers Tuesday to provide paid sick leave for their employees.

"We are facing a public and occupational health emergency," said Pete Meyers, TCWC Coordinator, "but workers who do the right thing and stay home when ill too often face financial hardship or even termination as a result. But now is not the time for business as usual."

The Tompkins County Health Department has continued to monitor and respond to the threat, focusing on preparing and containing the virus should it emerge here. 

"There is currently low risk of coronavirus infection in Tompkins County because individual risk is dependent on exposure, and there are currently no confirmed cases in New York State. Our community and individuals must take responsibility to maintain our well-being and protect the health of others," say Health Department officials. "The best ways to slow the spread of illness are to take everyday actions, including stay home from work and school if you are sick, cover your cough and sneeze with a tissue, and wash your hands often."

SUNY and CUNY study abroad programs in China, Italy, Japan, Iran, South Korea were suspended effective immediately in response to novel coronavirus concerns, and it was announced that the state and city universities are arranging immediate return travel for about 300 students.  The students will be flown into New York Stewart International Airport.

"The students will come back on a chartered plane which will land at Stewart Airport - they will then be quarantined for 14 days in dormitory settings," Cuomo said. "We'll then stay in touch with them after the 14 days and do follow-up work."

On Monday Cuomo announced a new directive by the State Department of Financial Services requiring New York health insurers to waive cost sharing associated with testing for novel coronavirus including emergency room, urgent care and office visits. He added that New Yorkers receiving Medicaid coverage will not be expected to pay a co-pay for any testing related to COVID-19, explaining that these actions will help ensure that cost does not serve as a barrier to access to COVID-19 testing for any New Yorker.

Cuomo said the Westchester community would have to be evaluated, because the children discovered to be positive for the coronavirus attended a school there.  He pointed out that the coronavirus spreads via human contact, but also said that it is only a mortal threat to a specific demographic.  But he also said community members plan to 'self-quarantine'.

"Those children attend the West Torah Academy, which, coincidentally, is one of the institutions that was at the meeting with us this afternoon where we decided the protocol there was they would be closed until Friday," Cuomo said. "Obviously, we'll have to reevaluate that in light of this new information. But they're closed until Friday anyway, and they have the people at Torah Academy on notice that they should be looking for symptoms. If they don't feel well, call the health professional. And, again, all off this one attorney, 50 year old, who is the only person to date who is hospitalized because he also had a respiratory illness and we said that is the target, problematic population, right. Senior citizens, immune compromised or underlying illness and especially an underlying respiratory illness."

Elected officials in both major political parties denounced the politicizing of the novel coronavirus.  Congressman Tom Reed's office released a statement Tuesday, and Cuomo Cuomo urged New Yorkers not to panic, saying that fear was more of an epidemic than the coronavirus itself.

Reed's statement read, "Earlier today, members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus met with the Vice President to get briefed on and discuss the global spread, and potential impact, of the novel Coronavirus here in the United States. The American people rightly expect us to rise above partisan politics, unite together, and immediately pass an emergency funding bill to combat this threat to our country and families."

Cuomo pledged to provide New Yorkers with the facts as they become known.

"We have an epidemic caused by Coronavirus but we have a pandemic that is caused by fear. Now what causes fear? Two things: People get afraid when they think they don't have the right information or they don't trust the information they're getting. Or the information they're getting is so frightening that they have the normal reaction. I think in this case, people are suspect about what they're hearing because government now is so polarized in so many ways. The environment is so political that you hear different messages about the situation and then it gets politicized. The Democrats say the Republicans are trying to minimize it. The Republicans say the Democrats are hyping it. So I think it's very important here in New York that I provide the factual information to people so they know these are just the facts."

The Tompkins County health department advises, "While there is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19 and other viruses, these simple steps can help stop the spread of this and other respiratory viruses:
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

"When you ask the CDC what's the variable on how many people this virus is truly dangerous for they say it depends on how the healthcare system operates," Cuomo said Wednesday. "China was close to 2 percent but China did not have an existing, state of the art health care system compared to the United States. When China started to do better it dropped from 2 percent down closer to 1 percent. So the level of health care and the quality of health care is very important. Luckily here in New York we have one of the best health care systems on the globe, period. And we are doing everything humanely possible to improve even on that."

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