New York is activating the National Guard to establish a “containment area” to slow the spread of novel coronavirus within part of New Rochelle, New York, a suburb of New York City, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday.
Within the containment area, “schools, houses of worship and other large gathering facilities within a one-mile radius” of the outbreak’s epicenter will be closed for 14 days until March 25, according to a press release.
The National Guard will assist state health officials in New Rochelle, “mobilizing to deliver food to homes and help with cleaning public spaces in the containment area,” the release added.
People who aren’t personally quarantined will be able to leave their homes and go to work. Local businesses can remain open. Residents or visitors are free to walk the sidewalks. The area includes three public schools.
The Westchester outbreak began to emerge after a 50-year-old lawyer was hospitalized with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Some of his relatives and friends later tested positive.
Many members of a New Rochelle synagogue where he had attended events were asked to quarantine themselves. Its rabbi also tested positive.
As of Tuesday, there were 108 reported cases in Westchester County, where New Rochelle is located, and 36 cases in New York City, according to the governor’s office and the New York State Department of Health. A total of 173 positive cases are reported statewide.
In the last 24 hours, Westchester County added 10 new cases, and New York City added 17 new cases, the release stated.
A state’s governor may activate the National Guard under “State Active Duty” status “in response to natural or man-made disasters or Homeland Defense missions.” In this capacity, Guardsmen remain “command and control” of the governor and are sourced and paid for by the state, according to the National Guard Bureau.
“In times of emergency, the National Guard Bureau serves as a federal coordinating agency should a state require help from the National Guard of another state,” Master Sgt. W. Michael Houk, National Guard Bureau spokesman, told Military Times. “The National Guard Bureau’s operation center is operating with increased staffing and hours and is prepared to coordinate support between the states and our mission partners in any whole of government response.”
“Though we are monitoring closely, National Guard Bureau is not currently tasked to support any state-to-state requests for assistance regarding COVID-19," Houk added.
A governor may also activate the Guardsmen to support other states through assistance agreements in a multi-state response to an emergency, although the funding comes from the federal government under Title 32 U.S.C. status.
The activation of the National Guard comes after the Dr. Howard Zucker, state health commissioner for New York, designated the cases in New Rochelle as a “cluster.”
“We are moving from containment to mitigation, and because much of the transmission of this disease tends to happen on a geographic basis, we are attacking this hotspot at the source,” Cuomo said in the press conference. “As the number of positive cases rises, I am urging all New Yorkers to remember the bottom line: we talk about all this stuff to keep the public informed — not to incite fear — and if you are not a member of the vulnerable population then there is no reason for excess anxiety.”
“As we see the number of cases continue to rise based upon close contacts with persons who are positive for COVID-19, there is a particular need to reduce the opportunity for further close contacts,” Zucker said in the release. "These opportunities include schools, churches, synagogues, and other event spaces where large numbers of people gather and remain together for extended periods of time.
The announcement also stated the state is partnering with local health partners to set up a “satellite testing facility” in the area, the release added.
On March 7, Cuomo declared a state of emergency to streamline the state’s response to the virus’ spread.
“As we continue to provide essential updates and encourage people to act upon the facts on coronavirus instead of the hype, I have officially done a declaration of emergency which gives us certain powers to help local health departments that are very stressed,” Cuomo said at the time. "As the local health departments continue to monitor and quarantine people, we have a more expedited purchasing protocol to get them all the tools they need to contain the virus spread.
The state of emergency declaration affords greater powers to the governor to implement a comprehensive emergency management plan and introduce emergency sanitary regulations, among other measures.
Cuomo’s office didn’t immediately have a number of how many troops are being deployed but said some have already arrived.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 647 reported cases of COVID-19 in the United States, resulting in 25 deaths thus far.
The Wall Street Journal first reported this story.
This story contains information from the Associated Press.
Dylan Gresik is a reporting intern for Military Times through Northwestern University's Journalism Residency program.