The First Confirmed Case of Coronavirus in New York City—and Fear Sets In

People lined up to checkout at H Mart of Morningside Heights on Sunday night. / Photo by Yuntong Man

People lined up to checkout at H Mart of Morningside Heights on Sunday night. / Photo by Yuntong Man

After the first confirmed coronavirus infection in Manhattan Sunday night, residents around the city rushed to get prepared out of fear that the virus is spreading.

At H Mart Supermarket in Morningside Heights, students living nearby lined up to stock up on food late Sunday evening.

Frozen food, grains, and noodles were among the most popular for their long shelf life.

“Let’s get red pepper so we can stir-fry,” a Chinese woman said to her friend when shopping. “I’ll turn them into hot sauces so they can last a year.”

Store employees refilled shelves almost as fast as they emptied. However, some shelves were already bare.

“We brought more than 500 dollars of food and even board games,” said Wenyu Han, a Chinese graduate student who lives  with roommates. “Just want to be prepared for the worst case scenarios.”

“I heard people on the West Coast are buying up firearms, and it’s very concerning if any riot or robbery happens here in New York,” said a visiting scholar at the Columbia Business School, who was also shopping at H Mart. “Classes can be let go, but not my life.”

On Sunday evening, shortly after reports of the case came out, many residents expressed concern about how the authorities were handling the Manhattan patient, a woman reported to be in her thirties and who had just returned from Iran. According to The New York Times, she is isolated in her home in New York City.

“Why is she under quarantine at home? So that she can make her family sick and they can spread it when they go out into the community?” Viktoria Janov, a Brooklyn resident, wrote in a Facebook comment.

Joshua Liang, a resident of the Upper West Side, went to the Bronx for the first time after he moved to New York City four years ago, to buy face masks and cleaning supplies. He visited a few pharmacies in Manhattan earlier and had no luck finding items he felt he needed.

“The store worker told me N95 respirators have sold out right away, as he has answered the same question many times,” Liang said, describing his experience at Home Depot at the Bronx Terminal.

He ended up buying hand soaps, cleaning sprays, and disinfecting wipes from Target upstairs, where he heard many others talking about the coronavirus. He plans to use face masks even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said it isn’t necessary for people without symptoms to wear masks.

Ming Gong, another shopper, said she was due to start an internship at the United Nations Monday morning, and she said she is hesitating because she worries she’ll need to spend $30 on a taxi twice per day to avoid public transit.

“There’s must be someone who is carrying the virus but not diagnosed yet,” Gong said. She worries the crowded subway may become a disease transmission center, especially when the MTA is not well known for its cleanliness.

“I worry about getting infected if I’m not wearing a face mask, but I’m also afraid about discrimination if I wear one,” Wangqian Ren told NY CityLens. She’s a social work student at Columbia University, who must ride the subway six times every week to her internship site in the Bronx.  Ren and her classmates just petitioned their school to modify the mandatory internship requirement so that they can avoid the health risk.

Some companies have started making plans for telecommunicating since last week. The Opportunity Network, an education non-profit for underrepresented students, for example, emailed its employees and asked them to test emergency communication systems and health and safety protocols, according to one of its employees, who asked to remain anonymous since she didn’t have permission to speak for the company.

As of 9 a.m. Monday, there were 88 confirmed cases of coronavirus and two deaths across the United States, according to the New York Times.