NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- New York officials have announced "dramatic action" in their efforts to combat the spread of coronavirus.
Recognizing that New Rochelle has been particularly hard hit and is problematic in terms of the spread of the virus, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday that officials are implementing a one mile radius "containment area" there.
"It is a dramatic action, but it is the largest cluster in the country, and this is literally a matter of life and death," Cuomo said.
"This is not an exclusion or quarantine zone. No one is prohibited from entering or leaving the area," said New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson. "This does not affect individual homeowners or families or businesses. It is purely a prohibition on large gatherings in order to make sure the spread of the virus is mitigated to the greatest degree possible."
Cuomo's move comes as New Jersey officials announced the first coronavirus-related death there, the first coronavirus-related death in the Tri-State Area.
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Within the containment area in New Rochelle, large gathering places will be closed for two weeks, officials said. That includes schools, temples, churches, and the like, officials said.
"New Rochelle is a particular problem. It is what they call a cluster. The numbers have been going up. The numbers continue to go up. The numbers are going up unabated. And we do need a special public health strategy for New Rochelle," Cuomo said.
A temporary coronavirus testing facility will be set up within the containment area, Cuomo said.
"We are also going to use the National Guard in the containment area to deliver food to homes, to help with the cleaning of public spaces," Cuomo said.
"We have moved from a containment strategy to more of a mitigation strategy," New York Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said. "When you're dealing with mitigation, you have to deal with the issues of social distancing and how people gather together and to try to minimize that."
"This will be a period of disruption for the community. I understand that," Cuomo said. "I get it. This can't be a political decision. This is a public health decision. It's not a decision I'm making. I'm accepting the recommendation of Dr. Zucker. In a situation like this, whether you're president, mayor, the governor: Let the experts decide, and let the science drive the decision. When you politically interfere in science, that's when you tend to make a mistake."
"It's major gathering places... just large facilities that do large gatherings," Cuomo said. "Those facilities that would bring large numbers of people together can't do it for two weeks."
The restriction won't cover smaller businesses and grocery stores, officials said.
Cuomo said the situation was "unique in the United States of America."
"We haven't seen this anywhere else. I mean, just think about it. New Rochelle has more than double the number of cases as New York City. It's true, it's a phenomenon," Cuomo said.
Schools to close in New Rochelle from March 11-25 include:
- New Rochelle High School
- Albert Leonard Middle School
- Ward Elementary
"While students are home please remember not to congregate unnecessarily. Keep safe and have students work on educational materials provided to you," Superintendent of New Rochelle schools Dr. Laura Feijoo said. "We will make these two weeks count instructionally and ensure students are learning and engaged while we deal with this worldwide crisis."
There are 5,508 students affected by the closure, making it roughly half of all the students in the district. Attendance Tuesday was 77%, down from Monday's 82% rate, which is also below the normal of 97%.
The school system says it will distribute Chromebooks to students who do not have a computer at home. If you're part of the affected community and need one, you can email Chromebook[at]nredlearn.org. All Chromebooks have to be returned when school resumes.
Classes will resume on March 26.
"We believe students are safest in school and are eager to reopen as soon as possible. It is inevitable that one of our students or staff will contract the virus. What is in our control is to be ready, calm, decisive and responsive to any and all circumstances which may arise," Feijoo said.
Dismissal at Ward Elementary school Tuesday came with some alarm bells for parents.
"It's stressful. Yeah, it's super stressful," said parent Tahani Oliver Batista, whose 5-year-old is in kindergarten at the school. Batista works full time.
"I'm really nervous because of childcare issues. I don't know what I'm going to do with my kids for two weeks," Batista said.
"Just having to reevaluate everything. How to get to work and deal with kids. It's a little tough," another parent said.
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There are 108 cases of coronavirus in Westchester county.
The implementation of the containment area is a move people who are most vulnerable to the virus appreciate, reports CBS2's Alice Gainer.
"It is a scary time," said resident Fideligna Adias.
Adias is in her 70s and has an autoimmune disorder. She has resorted to wearing gloves in public and only leaves the house if she has to. Tuesday, it was for cough drops, just in case.
"I don't come out... I cam to see if they have alcohol and things like that, they don't have it," she said.
Like stores throughout the state, the shelves in New Rochelle are bare. But the city just got its first shipment of New York's new hand sanitizer, loaded up to be delivered to community spots. It's a new, inconvenient way of life, for those living in the hotspot of the extremely contagious virus.
"I think it's a good safety precaution. Please keep people home and out of harms way," said parent Boris Lazirev.
"Our hands are tied at this point," Batista said.
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