- Around 4,000 people in New York have been asked to self-isolate at home due to the coronavirus.
- Most of the state’s cases are linked to a single patient: a 50-year-old attorney from Westchester.
- An 84-year-old woman who attends synagogue with that man said she had a conversation with him just days before he was diagnosed.
- She said she has preexisting health problems, but she’s not worried about getting infected.
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Vera Koppel prepared for this Wednesday like any other: She planned to chair a weekly social event at her synagogue in Westchester, New York. A lunch would be followed by a screening of the documentary “Cuba’s Forgotten Jewels,” about Jewish refugees who escaped to Havana from Europe.
Koppel had expected about 40 people to attend — but then her phone started ringing.
“People kept calling all day long,” she said. “There were some who said, ‘Oh, I wouldn’t put my foot into that building.'”
Earlier that day, a 50-year-old attorney who belongs to the synagogue, Young Israel of New Rochelle, became the second person in New York to be diagnosed with the coronavirus.
By around 4 p.m. that afternoon, Koppel received an email from the state health department informing her that she would have to quarantine herself for at least four days. Her movie screening was canceled.
Koppel said she knows the infected attorney intimately — she attended his wedding and watched his wife, who now has the coronavirus as well, grow up.
“They are just the nicest people,” Koppel said. “They have a law firm and they mainly deal with elder law so they’re helping many of my community, the elderly people, with their wills and estate planning.”
Koppel said she had a lengthy conversation with the attorney at a service on February 22. The following day, Koppel and the man both attended a funeral at the synagogue. Everyone who attended the service, the funeral, or a bnei mitzvah at the synagogue on February 23, has been asked to self-isolate at home until Sunday.
Since the coronavirus arrived in New York last weekend, around 4,000 people have been asked to self-isolate in their homes — either because they recently traveled to a country with a severe outbreak (China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, or Japan) or had possible contact with an infected patient.
As new cases are reported each day, sometimes multiple times a day, the state has thrown the full force of its efforts into containing the outbreak.
“This has been almost all-consuming for me,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a press briefing on Thursday. He said controlling the virus is “a logistical monster.”
New York has reported 44 cases so far, most of which are linked to the 50-year-old attorney. Those cases include the man’s wife, daughter, son, and neighbor, along with his friend, friend’s wife, and three of their four children. A rabbi at the synagogue has also gotten sick.
The state’s goal is to conduct 1,000 test for the virus per day, but the current capacity is limited. A spokesperson for the state health department said on Friday that New York has around 3,000 test kits for the virus.
The virus presents a high risk to the elderly
Koppel, an 84-year-old Holocaust survivor, is among the 1,000 people who have been told to quarantine themselves in Westchester. She has lived in her home for the last 33 years; it’s just three doors down from the synagogue.
“There are some who think that this is silly,” she said of the quarantine. “We just have to hope that everybody will follow the rules.”
When she spoke with the infected man last, she added, the coronavirus wasn’t even a topic of conversation.
“The virus never entered our minds,” she said. “It was something far distant that other people in China had.”
The coronavirus outbreak originated in Wuhan, China, in December. The US reported its first case in Snohomish County, Washington, on January 20. Since then, the virus has infected at least 300 people across 22 states.
Koppel said she is learning about the new cases in New York like everyone else, through the news. But she prefers to keep the TV off most of the time.
“It doesn’t make any difference — our community is infected,” Koppel said. “My gut feeling is that our quarantine is going to be lengthened.”
Koppel hasn’t received any visits from health authorities
Koppel said she’s not at all concerned about getting the virus, which has the most severe effects on older patients with preexisting health problems.
“I am one of the oldest people in the synagogue,” she said. “I do have health issues, but I’m not worried about it.”
The coronavirus is transmitted primarily through respiratory droplets such as saliva or mucus. But not everyone who has contact with an infected person will necessarily get sick.
As of Thursday, Koppel said she hadn’t received any calls or visits from health authorities.
For now, she’s filling her time by making phone calls and chipping away at books she’d always meant to finish. At the top of her reading list is Julie Orringer’s “Invisible Bridge” and Rabbi Daniel Cohen’s “What Will They Say About You When You Are Gone?.”
Her freezer, she added, is stocked with vegetables and bread, and community members have offered to drop more fresh food off outside her home.
“It just so happens I have milk, and if I don’t have fresh yogurt, I’ll deal with that,” she said. “There are people who are scared of anything — I’m not.”