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New Rochelle, New York's initial coronavirus epicenter, begins to reopen

“It’s a big, big day because it shows everything is moving forward,” the executive director of the town’s Chamber of Commerce said. “It shows we turned a corner.”
Image: New Rochelle
Raj Shaikhar of Jessica Newsstand Inc opens his newsstand on May 26, 2020, in New Rochelle, N.Y., as Westchester County begins Phase One of its reopening.Timothy A. Clary / AFP - Getty Images

The city of New Rochelle, New York’s original epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, began to slowly reopen on Tuesday, more than two months after being placed into a “containment zone” before the rest of the state went into lockdown.

The New York City suburb was an early epicenter of the coronavirus in March after a man became the second diagnosed case in the state. New York would eventually become the most devastated state in the entire country, with more than 362,700 known cases and nearly 24,000 known deaths.

The state’s Mid-Hudson region, which includes New Rochelle, began the first phase of reopening Tuesday, which includes construction, manufacturing and curbside and in-store pickup at retail locations.

“It’s a big, big day because it shows everything is moving forward,” Catherine White, executive director of the New Rochelle’s Chamber of Commerce told NBC News. “It shows we turned a corner.”

“The most important thing is to keep the numbers down,” White said, speaking of a potential spike in coronavirus infection numbers. “We need to maintain that through phase one so we can get to phase two.”

Phase two of reopening would include personal services and expanded retail and administrative support, while phase three would include expanded restaurants and food services.

New Rochelle city managers said it had begun phase one of its reopening on Tuesday morning.

Earlier Tuesday, New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson told local station PIX11, “I think having faced COVID-19 ahead of almost everyone else in the country, we can take satisfaction in reaching this milestone, some pride in having gotten there through strength and wisdom.”

“We understand that this is going to be a phased process and that many restrictions will remain in place,” he said.

Bramson said while there was a general “feeling of excitement and optimism” it was an “issue if we go back to business as normal prematurely.”

“Then we’ll go backwards and that would be the wrong thing for any of us to do, so we’re going to be emphasizing that message using every opportunity,” he said.

On March 10, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he was implementing a "containment area" around a one-mile radius in New Rochelle, which at the time he called "the most significant cluster in the country."

New Rochelle became a hot spot after a resident who lived there but worked in Manhattan became the second known case in the state. He was later linked to dozens of other confirmed cases, including members of his family and members of the New Rochelle synagogue he attended, which is also in the containment zone.

The state deployed the National Guard to the area to assist with deep-cleaning of schools and delivering food to residents who were under quarantine at home.

The governor later expanded restrictions and social distancing measures as the virus spread throughout the state, closing non-essential businesses, limiting restaurants to delivery and take out, and restricting large gatherings.

Some regions in New York have slowly begun to reopen since mid-May after reaching seven metrics measuring downwards trends including data ranging from COVID-19 hospitalizations, deaths, hospital capacity, the number of contact tracers a region has available, among others.