National Guard ordered to New York suburb New Rochelle to contain coronavirus

Most cases in the Westchester County suburb are connected to one man who was diagnosed last week

Updated: May 26, 2020 - 6:48pm

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday he's mobilizing the National Guard to establish a “containment area” in New Rochelle, the Westchester County suburb at the center of the state’s coronavirus outbreak.

Schools, businesses, synagogues, and other facilities within one mile of the city center will close for two weeks, beginning Thursday.

Officials are working out the details on what the Guard troops would do, and how many would be involved, a person with knowledge of the situation told Just the News. 

“We still don’t know what the mission set is,” the source said. “The numbers are not that big. We’re looking at less than 1,000 people, and more like a company sized element.” A typical Army company consists of approximately 200 soldiers.

The state will activate volunteers from the Army and Air National Guard, the source said. “This is not an involuntary mobilization. We first will locate the soldiers and airmen.”

A spokesman for the New New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs referred a reporter to the governor’s office for information on what the mobilization would entail.

Gov. Cuomo’s office did not immediately return a phone call from Just the News.Northwell Health, New York state’s largest healthcare provider, will set up a satellite testing lab in the contained area.

Cuomo said that New Rochelle has “probably the largest cluster in the United States in these cases and is a significant issue for us.”

New York now reports 173 cases of the virus — 108 of which are in New Rochelle. So far, no deaths have been reported in the state, but 14 people have been hospitalized. Most of the patients are in high-risk categories – including the elderly and those with underlying medical causes.

“The numbers are going up unabated, and we do need a special public health strategy for New Rochelle,” Cuomo said.

Nearly 1,000 people in Westchester County are now quarantined. Many of them have recently attended large group gatherings, including a bat mitzvah, a funeral, and religious services. The 50-year-old attorney – “patient zero” at the heart of the New Rochelle spread of the virus – was in attendance at those events.

In 1972, during a smallpox outbreak in Kosovo and Belgrade, the government of Yugoslavia imposed strict martial law. The epidemic infected 175 people and killed 35. It was contained within two months. 

Chief Security Correspondent Susan Katz Keating contributed to this story.