New York 'patient zero' says doctors 'made no mention' of coronavirus before trip to ER

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The lawyer identified as “patient zero” in New York's Westchester County revealed in his first televised interview Monday that doctors who first examined him “made no mention” of the coronavirus that has since infected more than 335,000 people in the state.

Lawrence Garbuz, an attorney who commuted into New York City for work, tested positive for COVID-19 on March 2 in New Rochelle, a town in Westchester County, about 17 miles north of Manhattan.

"I'm thankful that I'm alive," Garbuz told NBC’s “TODAY” in a pre-taped interview sitting next to his wife and law partner, Adina. "I just thought it was a cough. A winter cough and quite frankly, I'm not certain that any of the sort of medical staff had been thinking about that initially when they examined me.


"Look, I'm a lawyer," he continued. "I sit at a desk all day. I think at the time we were sort of focusing on individuals who had maybe traveled internationally, something that I had not done. I had certainly not been to China.

"I went to the doctor, and he examined me, and he said I needed to go immediately to the emergency room,'' Garbuz said. “We went to the hospital. After we entered the emergency room, I have absolutely no recollection of anything that transpired until I woke up from the coma. So it's as if three weeks of my life had completely disappeared, and I was asleep for all of it."

New Rochelle, an idyllic New York City suburb, was first put on the American cultural map in the 1960s when the actor Dick Van Dyke's character on his eponymous TV show made his home there. It took on new fame after becoming the first known coronavirus hotspot in the United States.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on March 10 that he was sending in National Guard troops to enforce a one-mile-radius “containment area” surrounding the Temple Young Israel synagogue in New Rochelle, where Garbuz who was later hospitalized with COVID-19, had attended events.


The 50-year-old father of four regularly rode the Metro-North train into Grand Central Station to get to work at his boutique Manhattan law firm, Lewis and Garbuz, P.C. He was the second to test positive for COVID-19 in the state and the first in Westchester County, where the contagion quickly spread.

“These were early days. Did coronavirus even come up during that first visit to the doctor?” NBC’s Savannah Guthrie asked, to which Garbuz responded: “Not at all, there was no mention of it at all.

"We thought, 'Okay, you have pneumonia. We'll get some medicine and you come home,'" his wife said. "Over the weekend it increasingly got worse and worse. He was struggling to breathe. I was trying to keep him calm. You feel awful, and it's scary."

Adina Lewis Garbuz said she chose to have her husband transferred to New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan and requested to have him intubated in the ambulance. Unable to visit him due to protocol established to curb the spread of the virus, she said she feared her husband would wake up alone.

“My wife saved my life," Garbuz said. “She is a person who solves problems quickly, with a smile."

Police guard area where New York State's first drive through coronavirus mobile testing center opened in New Rochelle, New York, U.S., March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Segar - RC26JF9HQ913

Police guard area where New York State's first drive through coronavirus mobile testing center opened in New Rochelle, New York, U.S., March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Segar - RC26JF9HQ913

He also thanked the medical staff, saying they "just did an absolutely splendid job."

"Many nurses came into the room, and they really were very compassionate. There was one person in particular. She said, 'Lawrence, I was praying for you,'" he added.

"All he cared about was his family. The first words he said to me was, 'I love you.' That's it," Lewis Garbuz said, recalling the first time she was allowed to speak with her husband after he came out of his coma.

"This is just like a miracle for all of us," their daughter Ella said. "It was obviously very, very scary, and we didn't know what was going to happen. To have him home has been huge for us."

About 4 miles outside the containment area in New Rochelle, Westchester County Police shut down Glen Island Park, a 105-acre park, located on Glen Island, on Long Island Sound, to set up a mobile testing site for those possibly infected with the coronavirus.


As of Monday, at least 1,341 people in Westchester County have died after becoming infected with the virus. At the peak of the outbreak, the county recorded 30 to 40 new deaths a day. There have been more than 31,000 confirmed cases in the area.

New York state has recorded at least 335,395 confirmed coronavirus cases, with at least 21,478 deaths, according to the state department of health.