Coronavirus: Officials Eye First Suspected Case in New York City

Coronavirus: Officials Eye First Suspected Case in New York City

New York City health officials announced on Saturday that a patient at Bellevue Hospital Center might have the new coronavirus and that samples were being sent to the federal authorities for laboratory testing. If confirmed, it would be the first known instance of the virus in New York City.

Based on the patient’s symptoms and travel history from China, city officials were taking the potential case seriously. This was the first time city officials had sent a sample to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for testing.

Another reason the health authorities suspect it might be the new coronavirus: They had tested the patient for influenza and other common illnesses, and those tests came back negative, health officials said.

They said they did not expect to receive results from the C.D.C. for 36 to 48 hours, or possibly longer.

“An individual with a travel history to China felt unwell and sought help from a medical provider who promptly contacted the Health Department,” the health commissioner, Dr. Oxiris Barbot, said in a statement.

At a news conference on Saturday night at the hospital, she said officials were confirming “our first individual who has been designated as a patient under investigation.”

City officials offered scant details about the patient. The person is under 40 years old, does not have family in New York City and was in stable condition. Dr. Barbot said the patient’s symptoms included “a fever, cough, and a runny nose.”

Freddi Goldstein, press secretary for Mayor Bill de Blasio, said the patient was vacationing in New York and was staying alone in a hotel. The patient was taken by ambulance to Bellevue from the hotel after calling 911.

The virus is believed to have originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan and has been confirmed in nearly 20 other countries. There are now eight confirmed cases in the United States and over 12,000 worldwide. More than 250 people have died.

Chinese authorities have tried to lock down Wuhan as well as a number of surrounding cities. But millions of people had already left Wuhan between the time the virus began appearing late last year and the imposition of a travel ban.

City officials would not say whether the patient had been in Wuhan or the surrounding area. Dr. Barbot said only that the person had traveled “from mainland China.”

Dr. Barbot last week said it was “inevitable” that the virus would make its way here. In recent days she has urged calm, telling New Yorkers to go about their lives.

Even those who had recently traveled from Wuhan and felt fine and symptom-free should continue with their regular routine, she said. Plenty of people have heeded her advice but anxiety was clearly rising among others.

In recent days, the sight of people wearing surgical masks as they rode the subway or walked on the streets has grown more common.

While many celebrations of the Lunar New Year, a major Asian holiday, went on as planned across the city’s Chinatowns, some appeared to have been more sparsely attended than in past years.

At least one large event in Flushing, Queens — the Lunar New Year Chinese Temple Bazaar — was canceled, with organizers acknowledging the “concerns that many people in the community have about large gatherings at this time, especially because the full risks of the virus are not yet known.”

In the past week, health officials across New York State have sent samples — taken by means of an oral swab, a nasal swab and by asking a patient to spit — from at least 10 people to the C.D.C. in Atlanta to be tested for the coronavirus. None so far have come back positive for the new coronavirus. Local laboratories do not have that testing capability for now.

City health officials say they are ready for this moment, given their history of dealing with unfamiliar or highly contagious viruses.

In 2018 and 2019, the city contended with an outbreak of measles — one of the most contagious diseases — in Brooklyn. And in 2014, Bellevue, the city’s flagship public hospital, treated an Ebola patient.

“The current risk is low, and the level of preparedness is high,” Dr. Barbot said on Tuesday at a news conference in Manhattan’s Chinatown.

Public health officials have been urging anyone with flulike or respiratory symptoms who has traveled to Wuhan recently — or been in contact with someone who has — to seek medical care immediately.

The officials have also said that patients found to have the new coronavirus may be sent home to ride out the illness if the symptoms seem relatively mild. Patients more severely affected would be hospitalized.

Complicating matters, public health officials said, is that New York is in the midst of a relatively bad flu season.

Alex Traub contributed reporting.


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