Far Rockaway senator confirms first case of coronavirus in Queens as Cuomo declares state of emergency

Photo by Darren McGee/ Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency Saturday as the number of coronavirus cases continues to grow statewide — with Queens being the latest county to have a patient with the illness.

According to state Senator James Sanders, the individual is hospitalized at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway. The patient is in isolation, and no one else has been quarantined at the medical center as of Saturday, March 7.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Saturday evening that the patient is a male Uber driver in his 30s who drives on Long Island. He is not a TLC licensed driver, according to the mayor.

“The New York City Department of Health has confirmed that a patient at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital has tested positive for COVID-19,” a spokesperson for St. John’s Episcopal Hospital said. “The patient is currently in isolation and we are closely monitoring team members who may have been exposed to this patient.  We have been actively preparing for this, and we will continue to follow all standard infection control guidelines.”

St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway. (Photo via Google Maps)

Elected officials including Sanders, Councilman Donovan Richards, Congressman Gregory Meeks, Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato and city agencies planned a press conference for 1 p.m. at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital but it was subsequently canceled.

The press conference was meant to call for increased funding and resources to prepare Queens for more potential cases of coronavirus.

“I was informed by St. John’s Episcopal Hospital that they have a confirmed case of a patient with COVID-19, aka the Coronavirus,” said Amato in a tweet. “The patient has been isolated, and [the hospital] are (sic) taking all necessary steps & following all guidelines to ensuring the safety of the rest of their patients hospital staff, and surrounding community. I encourage everyone to consistently wash their hands, avoid touching their face, and cover their mouths when sneezing or coughing to reduce any risk of exposure.”

Meanwhile, Cuomo’s emergency declaration comes as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the Empire State reached 89, including 11 confirmed diagnoses in New York City alone.

The vast majority of the state’s cases are in Westchester County and are connected to a New Rochelle attorney diagnosed with coronavirus on Monday.

There are 18 New York City residents under mandatory quarantine and 2,255 are under voluntary quarantine, according to de Blasio.

The mayor also said that New York City disease detectives have determined new information about COVID-19:

  • The virus can only transmit when bodily fluid, such as through a sneeze, cough, or spit, is transferred from a person who has the virus, directly into another person.
  • The virus does not survive for more than two or three minutes in open air.

“I have officially [declared a state of] emergency which gives us certain powers. We’re going to be doing purchasing and hiring more staff, especially to help local health departments that are very stressed. We’ve said to the local health departments you have to do the monitoring on the quarantine, the mandatory quarantine. So this is labor intensive,” Cuomo said. “We need the staffing, we need the purchasing. Under the declaration of emergency, we have a more expedited purchasing protocol.”

This state of emergency declaration allows, among other things:

  • Expedited procurement of cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer and other essential resources
  • Allowing qualified professionals other than doctors and nurses to conduct testing
  • Expedited procurement of testing supplies and equipment
  • Expedited personnel onboarding
  • Expedited leasing of lab space
  • Allowing EMS personnel to transport patients to quarantine locations other than just hospitals
  • Providing clear basis for price gouging and enforcement investigation   

Additionally, Cuomo called on the New York State Department of State’s Consumer Protection Division to launch an investigation into reports of unfair price increases of consumer products such as household cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.

“I want businesses to be aware that you could lose your license for price gouging. This is serious. It is not just price gouging. It is price gouging in an emergency situation where you are being exploitative of the public. And there are specific legal provisions for price gouging in an emergency situation. If you are a store, you can lose your license and we are very serious about this. For the few dollars that you are going to make during this situation it is not worth your while,” Cuomo added.

Cuomo said New Yorkers can report suspected price gouging by calling a toll-free hotline at 1-800-697-1220.