New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday convened a team of health experts, including Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot and Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services Dr. Raul Perea-Henze to address community- and ethnic-led media around the City’s current strategy for controlling the spread of Covid-19 novel coronavirus.

As of March 11, New York City had 53 confirmed cases of patients with coronavirus, according to de Blasio.

While acknowledging Covid-19 is a major public health concern and source of enormous public anxiety, Dr. Parea-Henze said there was no need for panic: In the 3 months since the virus has appeared, 80 percent of those who are infected with coronavirus experience only mild symptoms and recover; while only around 15 percent require hospitalization, he pointed out.

A much smaller percentage — 3% to 5 %– of people with confirmed cases of the infection have died, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio
Photo: BK Reader

The world health community is still learning about the virus, said the mayor, and his administration is prepared to update its strategy and approach as new information around the virus emerges.

In the meantime, he said, the city was aiming to “strike a balance” between hyper-vigilance around national health protocols, while maintaining  a sense of normalcy as much as possible, primarily for schools and businesses.

“We all care about health and safety first, but the notion of losing months and months of our children’s education should be troubling to all of us. So we’re trying to strike a balance. Every day will be a new day in terms of assessing the information we have.”

Dr. Barbot estimated six months as the amount of time it would take for the disease to run its course in New York City, hopefully resolving itself around September.

In the meantime, the mayor is calling on residents to continue life as usual while educating themselves around the virus well enough to determine when to stay at home or when to see a doctor. Residents can learn about the symptoms and more prevention here.

“The fear out there is real, the confusion … is natural, normal. It’s a serious disease,” said the mayor. “But the best way to fight fear is with information and good guidance … showing that we believe in each other and that we can get through this, and knowing that guidance could change with new information.”

Unlike the common flu where symptoms will hit you hard within 24 hours, with coronavirus, symptoms usually start out very mild and may take up to two weeks before showing up. So even if a person feels mild symptoms, the best idea is to stay home, said Dr. Barbot: “While you are symptomatic, you can transmit the virus. Stay home 48 hours, and if you’re not feeling better, then reach out to your doctor.”

City Hall’s message of calm and reassurance, however, contrasts in some ways with global warnings around the virus. Only hours before de Blasio’s press conference, the World Health Organization declared the virus a global pandemic, that had so far affected 121,000 people worldwide since its emergence: “We’re deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction,” said WHO’s Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“In the past two weeks, the number of cases outside China has increased thirteenfold and the number of affected countries has tripled. In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths and the number of affected countries climb even higher.”

But according to de Blasio, although it is valuable to look at what’s happening in other countries, it is not the whole story: “I do feel that as New Yorkers, even when dealing with a crisis, we are blessed to have some very key and distinct factors in our favor,” he said. “We have unquestionably one of the best health care systems in the United States of America.”

And while several other nations are dealing with the virus through active, pre-emptive testing, most of the major cities in the U.S. still are without test kits. In New York, even as the city’s public hospitals are fortunate enough to be equipped with test kits, they are used only after a patient has shown symptoms, not before.

For New York City’s part, it is using the BioFire System for testing at the initial stage. Within one hour, BioFire can provide results for 26 of the most common bacterial and viral pathogens not including Covid-19. It is only after results prove negative for the 26 other viruses that the Covid-19 test is administered.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio
Photo: BK Reader

“It’s not for a lack of testing capacity;” said de Blasio, “it’s intelligent prioritization.”

In the meantime, the City has set up for residents to receive regular text messages updates on the Coronavirus by texting “COVID” to 692-692. The City is also asking residents to visit nyc.gov/coronavirus to download handouts, instructions another other materials in several languages.

“If you’re sick, don’t go to work. If your kids are sick, don’t send them to school,” de Blasio said.

Know the symptoms, practice frequent handwashing and hygiene, and stay home and visit the doctor if you believe you are symptomatic. The rest, according to the administration, the City is managing.

Also, added de Blasio, anyone that comes in for healthcare assistance will not be asked about their documentation status.

“In New York City we are very mindful of first relying upon ourselves … We are looking at CBS, WHO… all the guidance. But we want to try to do this very carefully and see if we can keep things running for the good of all while keeping people safe.

“We are not rushing with great joy to the notion of shutting everything down.”

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