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New Rochelle rabbi has COVID-19; County Executive Latimer tells residents to continue patronizing businesses

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A rabbi at the temple Young Israel of New Rochelle, which is where the 50-year-old attorney who was the first person to be diagnosed with COVID-19 in Westchester is a member, has tested positive for the disease, according to a statement Friday by Yeshiva University, where the rabbi teaches classes.

Ari Berman, president of the university, identified him as Rabbi Reuven Frank. Berman said that Frank is in self-quarantine. The university has recommended that his students self-quarantine as a precautionary measure until further notice. Berman teaches two classes at the university’s Washington Heights campus.

On Thursday, Westchester County Executive George Latimer, New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson, Deputy County Executive Ken Jenkins, and others went to Eden Wok, a Kosher Chinese restaurant on North Avenue in New Rochelle, for lunch and a news conference urging people to continue patronizing businesses as usual and not be overly concerned about picking up the virus during the normal course of their daily activities.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo reported on Friday that the number of cases of the illness in New York state has risen to 44 cases.

Cuomo earlier in the week had said that a friend of the 50-year-old attorney from New Rochelle who was the first person in the county diagnosed with the illness also tested positive as did that person’s wife, two sons and daughter. This is in addition to the wife, son and daughter of the attorney who are quarantined at their home in New Rochelle.

The attorney is hospitalized at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center in Manhattan. In addition, a neighbor who drove the man to the hospital has also tested positive.

Schools in Hastings-on-Hudson and Mount Vernon were closed Thursday and Friday for cleaning as a precaution. The Hastings school district said it had been notified that a district parent had been at one of the places previously closed due to a confirmed case of coronavirus and it was making a precautionary move to close schools so its buildings could be sanitized.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at a news conference Wednesday said about the children of the 50-year old attorney, “The son is 20 years old and attends Yeshiva University. The daughter is 14 years old and is in the SAR school. And the neighbor is not just a neighbor, but actually drove the attorney to the hospital and therefore was in the car with the attorney in that closed environment – and the neighbor tested positive.

“That then triggers the detective work where we go back and we try to make as many connections as possible. And do as much research and investigation as possible. And then notify people, right? Whenever you find a case it is about containment and doing the best you can to keep the circle as tight as possible. The head of Yeshiva University – I spoke to this morning – the school that the son attends will be closed for today. The SAR school is also closed for today. We’re going to meet in Westchester this afternoon at noon with the heads of the school and the county and the local health officials to get some more facts and start to track back to the best we can.

“I also want to announce we’re going to recall SUNY and CUNY students from study abroad programs in five countries – China, Italy, Japan, Iran, South Korea – those are countries that have been on the quote-unquote watch list, recall list the federal government has set. The students will come back on a chartered plane which will land at Stewart Airport – they will then be quarantined for 14 days in dormitory settings. We’ll then stay in touch with them after the 14 days and do follow-up work.”

The New Rochelle attorney was initially hospitalized at New York-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital in Bronxville.

The unidentified attorney apparently did not travel to China nor to any of the countries where the outbreak of the virus has been severe. He apparently did make a recent trip to Miami, but officials did not have full details.

It was at a noontime news conference Tuesday at the County Office Building in White Plains that Westchester County Executive George Latimer and County Health Commissioner Sherlita Amler said the man lives in New Rochelle with his wife and two of their children. One child attends Yeshiva University in Washington Heights and the other attends private school in Riverdale, the SAR Academy. It and the Westchester Day School and Westchester Torah Academy closed because of potential spread of the virus.

The man’s other two children are in Israel. The man had been commuting to work in New York City, and apparently used Metro-North Railroad. The Yeshiva student had been staying the college campus rather than living at home while school was in session.

The attorney’s wife and children had been in quarantine at home when it became clear that the attorney had COVID-19. It was determined that the man had attended events at the temple Young Israel of New Rochelle. Amler directed that the temple halt all services immediately and for the foreseeable future due to possible COVID-19 exposure.

Amler also determined that congregants of the temple who attended services on Feb. 22 and a funeral and bat mitzvah at the temple on Feb. 23 must self-quarantine until March 8 at the very earliest. She said the Health Department would order quarantine for anyone who was at those events at the temple and did not self-quarantine. The temple has approximately 380 families as members.

covid-19 coronavirus
New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson, Westchester County Health Commissioner Sherlita Amler and County Executive George Latimer. Photo by Peter Katz

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, state Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins and other officials held a news conference in Albany on Tuesday morning during which Cuomo a $40 million spending bill for the state’s response to the virus situation. The funds will allow the state to hire additional staff and obtain equipment and any other resources deemed necessary.

Cuomo said of the Westchester man, “We are now going through possible connections to track down possible connections to find people. The SAR School in Riverdale closed, that is today, that is a school that one of the children attended. There may be some more schools that voluntarily close just until they determine exactly if there were children who might have exposed other children because you have to now track back all of these situations. Our information is the gentleman had an underlying respiratory illness and he is ill and he is hospitalized.”

Cuomo said that the state university system will ask students studying in countries where the virus is prevalent to come home. In addition, it will review its programs for study abroad in anticipation of expanded travel restrictions being imposed by the federal government.

Latimer said that the county is well-positioned with necessary funds and resources to handle additional cases of the illness. He said that the mathematics indicate that such cases are likely, especially the background of what’s been happening globally.

He said that private aircraft flying to the Westchester County Airport from overseas where the illness has been rampant are being advised to stay away and go instead to John F. Kennedy International or Newark International airports, which have been designated as entry points that can handle screening for the disease.

Amler said that the number of people the county has been monitoring has varied from a recent peak of 26 to as low as four. She said the number goes down as people pass the 14-day incubation period for COVID-19 without becoming ill and can go up as people are identified.

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