New Rochelle, home to NY’s first Covid-19 cluster, slowly reopens for business

Louis Vaccaro, owner of The Curtain Shop in New Rochelle, NY, speaks to FRANCE 24.
Louis Vaccaro, owner of The Curtain Shop in New Rochelle, NY, speaks to FRANCE 24. © Jessica Le Masurier

The New York suburb of New Rochelle, home to one of the first coronavirus clusters in the US, began to slowly reopen for business on Tuesday. 

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A ‘containment zone’ was declared around the city in mid-March, well before the rest of NY State went into lockdown, after a New Rochelle lawyer contracted and unwittingly spread the virus by attending his synagogue and other gatherings. 

New York then went on to become the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in the US.

Westchester County, which includes New Rochelle, started phase one of reopening Tuesday, which includes construction, manufacturing and curbside and in-store pickup at some retailers. 

The executive director of New Rochelle’s Chamber of Commerce, Catherine White, said that it was a “monumental day” because “we had been waiting for signs that things were moving forward, definite concrete signs that things are getting better.”

White added that while the virus had hit the city hard, many New Rochelle businesses had managed to be innovative and successfully go virtual. She cited a baseball coach who now teaches from his backyard and whose virtual gym classes have gained him students across the US.

“The most important thing now,” White said, “is to keep our numbers down.” 

If infection rates continue to drop in the area for the next two weeks, then it can enter phase two of reopening, which would include personal services and more retail and administrative businesses. Phase three would include additional restaurants and food services.

White herself went to get the Covid-19 antibody test in the nearby city of White Plains on Tuesday. She said she had been bedridden with a high fever back in late December. White joked that perhaps her daughter, who might have given her the virus (Covid-19 or not) had actually been NY's real patient zero.

Residents on the streets of New Rochelle expressed cautious optimism about the gradual reopening of business. 

Louis Vaccaro, the owner of The Curtain Shop, which has been on Main Street since 1976, said he was “thrilled to be opening”. 

“We’ve been waiting for this for months.” Vaccaro said, “We need this. We’ve all lost friends and family because of this and it’s scary but I think this is the right step, as long as everyone is responsible.”

A 73-year-old employee of a neighbouring supermarket, who asked to remain unnamed, was worried that reopening so soon was not a good idea because there was still no cure for the virus. He wore a visor, mask and gloves and said he had been working throughout the pandemic and had lost several of his friends.

New Rochelle is right on the water and is also known as the Queen City of the Sound. Some businesses, including Sound Bound Charters, which takes people out on fishing trips, also opened on Tuesday. 

Captain Brendan Lorino, the owner of the company said he was excited to “finally get back to work”. He described the precautions he was taking, spacing people apart on the boat and scrubbing it thoroughly with bleach after each trip. 

Lorino is also a firefighter in the Bronx borough of New York City. He worked throughout the pandemic and said he had witnessed some terrible things but that “we are finally getting over the hump. Going fishing is a way to get out and forget about your worries for the day.”

 

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