Over the weekend, New York City confirmed the first local case of coronavirus. A woman in her late thirties, who contracted COVID-19 on a recent trip to Iran, is being treated at home in Manhattan. She is not in serious condition and is expected to recover, and precautions have been taken to keep a close eye out for symptoms in anyone who had close contact with her. 

New York City and State are taking the threat of coronavirus very seriously. New York State just received federal authority to do its own testing for the virus, and is scaling up testing during this containment phase very quickly. Health care workers and officials throughout the city are prepared to identify cases, isolate patients, and mobilize the healthcare system to care for people. They have been stockpiling supplies, making sure there are enough hospital beds, and training health care workers to help prevent the spread of the virus. Schools are taking precautions too, stepping up cleaning of high traffic areas and reminding kids to wash hands frequently. (Right now, the City does not anticipate taking much more extreme and disruptive measures like closing schools. The Department of Education and other agencies will work closely with the Department of Health as the situation progresses). 

What to know: Most people who contract coronavirus will recover without needing intensive care. The symptoms include fever, cough, and respiratory problems. For most people, coronavirus will be mild, but there is a risk, especially for the elderly and people with already compromised immune systems, that it turns into something more serious like pneumonia. Find out more here about what New Yorkers need to know about COVID-19.

What you can do

  • Wash your hands. This is the number one thing that will help prevent the spread of the virus. Refrain from touching your face, and wash frequently with warm water and soap.
  • Keep a healthy distance from people you interact with. No need to avoid people, but also no need to sneeze and cough on each other. Even taking just a few steps back (and covering your mouth when you cough) can help. 
  • Stay home if you are sick. Just like with the flu, staying home to not spread it to coworkers or classmates is important. We fought hard to win paid sick leave for most New Yorkers, a critical public health policy that will help prevent the spread of the virus. If you face pushback for trying to use sick leave, contact the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection.
  • Get a flu shot. It is not too late for the flu shot, and while it won’t protect against coronavirus itself, it will help prevent the spread of similar symptoms.
  • Help seniors and other potentially vulnerable people prepare. If you have neighbors, relatives, or friends who are elderly, or have compromised respiratory or immune systems, help them make preparations like stockpiling some food and medication. 

Viruses don’t discriminate. We should not either. We’ve already heard reports of people being targeted for their ethnicity, and seen media outlets like the New York Post perpetuate assumptions about who is contagious (for their story on the first case, a Manhattan resident who had traveled to Iran, the Post’s photo featured completely unrelated Asian New Yorkers in Queens). The virus may have first emerged in China, but cases are spreading now in many parts of our interconnected world. To prevent this from becoming an even bigger public health, economic, and social crisis, we all need to work together, both to keep each other healthy and to resist anti-Asian bigotry. In recent days, I’ve patronized small businesses in both Brooklyn and Manhattan’s Chinatown, where business is down. Let’s not let our fears lead to discrimination against our neighbors.  

This is still a beginning, we know that more people will contract coronavirus in the coming weeks. Just like the flu, the coronavirus is most serious (and potentially deadly) for those who already have weaker immune systems because of their age or other health issues. There is reason to be aware, to take precautions, but also, not to panic. We know from our own lives that panicking usually brings a host of additional problems. The same is true in our collective response to the virus. We should use our collective energy and public policy to prevent as many needless infections as we can, and guard against stigma and panic.

We will keep you updated as we learn more. 

Wash your hands. Take reasonable precautions. Don’t panic. And be kind to your neighbors.