Members of the National Guard streamed into New Rochelle on Thursday morning on an unusual domestic mission to provide food and support to local residents dealing with a growing cluster of COVID-19 cases.
Their arrival comes two days after Cuomo declared a "containment zone," officially prohibiting large gatherings within a one-mile radius of the Young Israel synagogue, the epicenter of a growing cluster of cases. On Thursday the governor extended that ban statewide.
The sudden arrival of scores of men and woman in combat uniform was both reassuring and jarring, according to some New Rochelle residents. "Just having the Army here…seeing them makes me emotional," said Celina Perez-White, a 34-year-old lifelong New Rochelle resident.
Perez-White had taken her three children out of school this week out of fear that they would catch the virus, which had infected 148 people in Westchester as of Thursday, and 328 people statewide. The food rations, she said, were a "huge help," as her three kids can no longer obtain the reduced fare lunch they normally receive at school.
"At least at home I know my house is clean. I disinfect everyday. We’re wiping down, we’re spraying," she said. "They’re begging to go outside to play, but I don’t let them."
The rations included several days worth of non-perishable items, including cans of soup, rice, and mac n' cheese provided by Feeding Westchester, a local food bank. Other brown bag offerings were donated by community members, organizers said. At the WestCOP community center, Specialist Jones helped load an SUV with nearly 50 bags of groceries to be brought to a nearby senior home where residents are on voluntary quarantine.
Jones, a longtime member of the National Guard, said this was her first deployment since 9/11. The levels of anxiety were comparable in some ways, she said. "But that was something that was more physical, that you could see," she told Gothamist. "This you can’t see."
A few miles from the containment zone on Thursday, state officials were setting up New York's first mobile testing center. The facility at Glen Island Park will be run by Northwell Health and offer tests by appointment starting on Friday, officials said. As of Thursday, only 2,314 people had been tested across the state.
Some New Rochelle residents living near the testing site were not happy to learn of the facility's location. "This is going to bring the virus closer to where I and my family live," said local resident Ivy LoIacono, calling it "totally inconsiderate and preposterous."
Meanwhile, inside New Rochelle's containment zone, the few local residents walking around on Thursday afternoon said they were trying to carry on with their lives. One person wondered if parking meters were still enforced during a pandemic. A mailman making his rounds wearing blue latex gloves heartily greeted business owners on North Avenue. Many have remained open, even as the recent measures have ground business to a standstill.
Jason Aronson, a 28-year-old housing broker who lives inside the containment zone, said he wasn't "terribly worried" about the virus, at least for now.
"The main difference for me is that they're closing the CVS for cleaning," he told Gothamist. "That and the helicopters this morning were a real pain in the ass."