No COVID-19 cases yet, but New York officials brace for ‘major epidemic’

People wear medical masks as a precaution against coronavirus, walking around in the streets of New York. (Photo: CNBC.com)

While there have been no confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in New York City, officials are preparing for the worst possible scenario – a crippling epidemic.

Across the city and the wider state of New York, Americans have been urged brace for the likelihood of a widespread outbreak, as in recent weeks, several hospitals across the city are safeguarding stockpiles of masks and other protective gear out of concerns a few employees were pilfering critical resources.

A coronavirus outbreak could spell disastrous for the US’ most populous city, which was estimated in 2018 to be close to 8,400,000 people.

A report from the New York Times indicated that one hospital is allowing pregnant employees to opt-out of caring for patients suspected of contracting COVID-19. “At another hospital, radiologists have been studying CT scans of coronavirus patients from China,” the New York Times reported added.

Mayor Bill de Blasio (centre) speaks at a news conference on Wednesday about the potential coronavirus outbreak. (Photo: New York Post)

Notwithstanding the fact New York is yet to confirm any cases of the coronavirus, there’s growing anxiety around the new infectious disease, which has killed 2,855 people across the world.

Planning is speeding up, with the possibility that containment strategies could soon give way to mitigation plans, as federal officials prepare for the spread of the virus in the United States.

State officials say they are ready, however, with a huge store of supplies hidden in three locations around New York, including a temperature-controlled warehouse near Albany.

“The warehouse is stacked to its 40-foot ceilings with surgical masks, gowns and gloves, and more extreme protective gear like N95 respirators and enclosed Tyvek suits, which resemble hazmat suits. Officials have also stockpiled ventilators, a necessity for severe cases of this coronavirus, which causes high fever and respiratory problems,” the New York Times reported.

On Wednesday (Feb. 26), New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Dr. Howard Zucker, the state health commissioner, announced a US$40 million plan to fight the virus.

“While inevitable, no one knows what an outbreak in New York City would look like.”

— A worrying prospect for New York City’s nearly 8.4 million inhabitants.

The officials promised the addition of more epidemiologists and other personnel to track potential patients, as well as more equipment to help treat the state’s first patients.

Other preventative measures, such as the forcible closure of schools, daycare centres and businesses are being considered. The cancellation of mass gatherings and restricting mass transit are among the steps that could be implemented, but only as a ‘worst-case scenario’.

State law already provides for emergency powers for the governor and health officials, but state lawyers are examining whether changes might be necessary to address this threat, officials said.

“The state is also asking federal officials to allow testing for the virus at a basement-level laboratory adjacent to the State Capitol, and at laboratories in New York City and elsewhere. The tests are currently being sent via FedEx to the federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta,” the New York Times wrote.

While inevitable, no one knows what an outbreak in New York City would look like.

What too, needs to be considered, are the measures Caribbean countries will take for citizens in New York, which boasts a large diaspora.