New York Covid-19 patient zero tells of his symptoms

New York's ‘patient zero’ unsure how he contracted Covid-19 and thought he just had a cough

His wife says: 'A healthy, vibrant person ... gets so sick so quickly. I know that at this point, we're not so surprised by that, but at that time it was shocking'

Oliver O'Connell
New York
Monday 11 May 2020 17:23
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The man dubbed New York’s ‘patient zero’ for community spread has spoken for the first time about his battle with the coronavirus and eventual recovery.

In an exclusive interview with NBC’s Today Show, New York lawyer, Lawrence Garbuz, said that when he fell ill in February, coronavirus wasn’t on his mind and that he still does not know how he contracted the virus and thought he just had a cough.

“I’m a lawyer. I sit at a desk all day,” he said. “I think at the time we were sort of focusing on individuals who had maybe travelled internationally, something that I had not done.”

Mr Garbuz had no pre-existing medical conditions and had not travelled internationally, but had recently visited Miami.

First developing a cough, then a mild fever, Mr Garbuz’s health rapidly deteriorated and he was rushed to an emergency room by a neighbour when breathing became difficult. He eventually fell into a coma for three weeks.

“After we entered the emergency room, I have absolutely no recollection of anything that transpired,” he said, “until I woke up from the coma.”

Mr Garbuz’s wife, Adina, decided to have him moved from their local hospital in Bronxville to the larger New York Presbyterian Columbia Hospital in Manhattan.

Insisting that he was intubated before the ambulance ride, which she feared he would not survive, Ms Garbuz is credited by her husband with saving his life.

“A healthy, vibrant person, all of a sudden overnight gets so sick so quickly. I know that at this point, we're not so surprised by that, but at that time it was shocking,” she said.

Mr Garbuz unknowingly sparked a cluster of Covid-19 cases in New Rochelle, north of New York City in Westchester County. He had also been commuting by train to his office in Manhattan.

The cluster triggered a major response from the state, with the National Guard being called in to help shut down Mr Garbuz’s neighbourhood in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus.

It was initially thought that he had pneumonia and it took four days to diagnose him with coronavirus. After her husband’s diagnosis, Ms Garbuz spent the night providing state health officials with details of everywhere he had been and with whom they had contact in an effort to stop others getting sick.

In addition to his immediate family, the list included dozens of hospital staff, congregants at their synagogue, his law firm employees, and the neighbour who drove him to the hospital.

Ms Garbuz and two of their four children also tested positive, so did the neighbour and his family.

As additional cases emerged, it became clear that the virus had spread beyond the confines of the community and Governor Andrew Cuomo began to initiate plans that would lead to the statewide lockdown imposed in late March.

Mr Garbuz was released from hospital at the end of March and has since been recovering at home with his family.

New York state has more than 335,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19, and has recorded almost 21,500 deaths from the virus, as of Monday.

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