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SAR closes campuses over coronavirus fears

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Two prominent Riverdale schools — SAR Academy and SAR High School — closed their doors Tuesday morning as a precaution after one student's family member became the second diagnosed case of COVID-19, commonly known as the coronavirus, in New York.

The 50-year-old New Rochelle man was diagnosed with the virus that causes the disease Monday night, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and has checked himself into Lawrence Hospital in Bronxville. The man, who was not identified, was hospitalized because of an underlying respiratory condition, Cuomo added, and is now at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in Manhattan.

The man, identified as a Manhattan lawyer, had not traveled to any of the countries considered a hotspot for the virus — China, Italy, or Iran — and Cuomo called it an indicator of “community spread” without contact with someone who had recently traveled out of the country.

It's not clear if he used public transit to commute to and from work upstate to Manhattan in recent days, Cuomo said, but officials are investigating.

SAR's decision to close was its own, Cuomo said, and other city schools may decide to follow suit.

SAR did not respond to requests for comment. However, school officials reportedly sent an email to parents early Tuesday informing them of the suspected case of COVID-19, adding they were in contact with the city's health department, and were following the instructions of those in that agency.

The school followed up with another email obtained by The Riverdale Press later Tuesday saying the COVID-19 case had been confirmed, and that the patient was the parent of an SAR High School student. That closed not only the school, but canceled all after-school activities, games and programs.

The first city case of COVID-19 was announced Sunday after a 39-year-old woman who had recently returned to her Manhattan home from Iran tested positive. The second case involving the SAR parent has the man hospitalized in serious condition, and his two sons quarantined in their Westchester County home, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio. The younger son, who attended SAR, did not show any immediate symptoms.

His older brother, however, who attends a city university was showing symptoms. Both have been tested, and results are pending. Officials at Yeshiva University in Washington Heights later verified the older brother attends school there. 

Despite the scare at SAR, two nearby community centers remained open as of Tuesday — Riverdale Neighborhood House on Mosholu Avenue, and The Riverdale Y on Arlington Avenue. However, they are remaining open with precautions. 

Neighborhood house interim executive director Ian Benjamin said in an email to members there was no reason to believe the main camps or Riverdale Community Center on West 237th Street had been exposed.

"We'll do whatever the New York Department of Health feels is the most prudent course of action," Deann Forman, chief executive of The Riverdale Y, told The Press. "But at this time, that is just to remain open to serve the community."

The best way for people to prevent exposing themselves to the virus that causes COVID-19 is to wash hands thoroughly and regularly, and to see a doctor immediately if they develop any flu-like symptoms, according to the city's health department.

Officials from both Riverdale Neighborhood House and The Riverdale Y said they were ensuring they had a plentiful supply of hand sanitizer, and posted signs around each of their campuses encourarging people to wash their hands, and if they were feeling sick, to stay home.

Knowing that seeking medical care is not exactly an affordable option for many, Cuomo said Tuesday he would require coronavirus-related tests to be free, and available without an insurance co-pay. The state will partner with private labs to process as many as 1,000 tests reach day.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials say they are working to completely disinfect buses, subways, and stations — something they are doing right now at least once every 72 hours.

In the meantime, Cuomo asked people not to panic. Even if it does spread, the virus still maintains a very low mortality rate to generally healthy people.

“Is is inevitable that it will continue to spread,” the governor said. “The basic fact — 80 percent of the people that get it will self-resolve, and may not even know that they had it.”

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