By Gabriella Borter and Nathan Layne
NEW YORK (Reuters) – People who live in the epicenter of New York’s coronavirus outbreak said they were not convinced the state’s order closing the area’s schools and large-gathering venues for two weeks would do enough to curb the spread of infection.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo this week said he was heeding the advice of the state health commissioner by ordering a one-mile diametrical “containment zone” around an infection hotspot in New Rochelle, Westchester County, north of New York City.
The mandate closes three public schools, several private and parochial schools, houses of worship and other large gathering venues in that area for two weeks starting Thursday.
Still, some residents believe the zone is too narrow to limit the spread of the disease, which has infected at least 216 people in New York, including more than 120 in Westchester.
Joy Malone, a photographer in New Rochelle whose children attend two of the three public schools that have been closed, said shutting just three of the city’s 10 public schools made no sense.
“There are children in all three who have siblings in the other seven,” Malone said. “It’s a huge mistake, especially with the severity of what is happening.”
More than 1,300 people in the United States have contracted the highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the virus, and at least 38 have died, most of them in Washington state, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
The cluster of some 121 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.
Several cases in the city 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.
Health officials hoped the containment zone would prevent large gatherings of people and slow the spread of the illness, but the measure would not stop people’s movement into and out of the area, New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson said.
In a phone interview with Reuters, Bramson said state and federal health officials decided the parameters of the zone with little input from city officials.
“All of those factors were considered by the state, and they judged the containment zone to be a sensible way of proceeding,” Bramson said.
“For a locality like New Rochelle to independently freelance without the expertise to back up our local judgments I think would be a very serious mistake,” he said.
Governor Cuomo said he would deploy the National Guard during the period of containment to clean schools and other buildings and deliver food to those in need, including thousands of children who rely on school meals.
Not every parent was displeased by the state’s order. Denise Logan, who lives in the containment zone, said her children have so far enjoyed the novelty of completing their school work remotely.
“I thought that closing the schools was going to be inevitable,” she said. “It seems like a very good idea to me.”
Kelly Ann DeCola, a New Rochelle resident whose children’s schools were not affected, did not want schools to close because she could not afford to skip work to care for her children at home.
Regardless, DeCola said the decision to close only a few schools, and not all, was “astronomically illogical” because children from across the city congregate for various activities and may even spend more time together now without the confines of a school day, heightening the risk of the virus spreading.
“Children from all over the city join together for basketball, soccer, karate, after-school programs, dancing school,” DeCola said in a Facebook message. “Now we’re going to have teenagers congregating in areas that they would have not been before.”