‘Cautious Optimism' From NY's First Experiment in COVID-19 Containment, New Rochelle

Lessons can be learned from the city that is a week ahead of the rest of the state in imposing stringent containment measures

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What to Know

  • The mayor of the first NY city to impose stringent containment measures for COVID-19 says the rate of increase in cases is moderating
  • A 1-mile "containment zone" was imposed in New Rochelle March 12 after cases spiked in the city due to community spread
  • The mayor says, 2 weeks later, the results give reason for "cautious optimism"

The first city in New York to impose strict restrictions on its citizens due to the spread of COVID-19 is now seeing encouraging results, its mayor says.

New Rochelle, in Westchester County, was the first place in New York to see community spread of the virus, after resident Lawrence Garbuz tested positive on March 2. All eyes were on the city as cases ballooned rapidly, and on March 10 Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced what seemed like rigorous measures at the time -- a 1-mile "containment zone" starting March 12 and running two weeks.

Inside, schools were closed and large gatherings were banned. The National Guard was called to help deliver meals to those in quarantine and a drive-thru testing site was opened. While the order sounded stringent at the time, the rest of the tri-state was not far behind with similar measures.

Speaking on CNN’s “New Day” Friday just days after the conclusion of the experiment, New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson says his city’s experience trying to contain the virus gives reason for cautious optimism. "We’re now seeing some indication that the rate of increase in the virus is moderating,” he said.

Despite this, Bramson said the number of cases are still increasing, and there’s no expectation that COVID-19 cases will actually decline, but if they can slow the rate of increase -- or flatten the curve -- it will prevent the overwhelming of their health care system. As of Friday morning, Westchester Country had 5,944 cases, representing 15 percent of the state's total cases.

After Garbuz's initial diagnosis, the virus spread rapidly. Officials said more than 50 cases were linked to the Midtown lawyer in New Rochelle, and he's since been linked to dozens of cases across multiple states. The frightening speed of the spread prompted Gov. Cuomo to announce the most rigorous actions the state had seen -- but only seven days later much of the country was doing the same or more to prevent the spread.

"It took exactly a week for all of the restrictions in our local containment zone to be overtaken and exceeded by statewide standards that were more restrictive," Bramson said to CNN. "So, in effect, all of New York state had become a containment zone, and much of America was not far behind.

"Even so, I would say that New Rochelle’s local experience gives us some reason for cautious optimism. Because of those early restrictions, we’re now seeing some indication that the rate of increase in the virus is moderating, and with each passing day, New Rochelle accounts for a smaller share of COVID-19 cases within our region."

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Bramson emphasized the "cautious" part of that equation, saying the data could be interpreted in multiple ways, was still preliminary. and still showed cases increasing. But if the slow of the rate of increase is mirrored across the state, New York's healthcare system will have a better chance of coping.

"So it’s entirely premature to celebrate, but at least the early signs are good," Bramson said.

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