The New York lawyer who is considered coronavirus ‘patient zero’ in the now hard-hit epicenter state says COVID-19 didn’t even enter his mind when his health deterioated rapidly after developing a cough.
Lawrence Garbuz, 50, spent three weeks in a coma in a New York City hospital after testing positive for coronavirus two months ago.
He is the first known COVID-19 case in the state and sparked a cluster of infections in his New Rochelle neighborhood in Westchester County.
Garbuz, who had been commuting between his home to his Manhattan law firm offices, told NBC’s Today that he was healthy and had no pre-existing conditions when he fell ill.
He still does not know how he contracted the deadly virus that has now resulted in In 335,000 infections and 21,400 deaths in New York state – the epicenter of the US outbreak.
Garbuz said he thought he just had a cough and that coronavirus did not enter his mind at the time because he hadn’t traveled overseas.
‘I’m a lawyer. I sit at a desk all day,’ Garbuz said. ‘I think at the time we were sort of focusing on individuals who had maybe traveled internationally – something that I had not done.’
He said ‘there was no mention’ of the virus ‘at all’ during an initial visit to the doctor.
‘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,’ Lawrence Garbuz (pictured with his wife, Adina), 50, said in a clip on NBC’s Today show
“Did coronavirus even come up when you went to that first visit to the doctor?”
“Not at all.”
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) May 10, 2020
‘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,’ he said.
The Manhattan lawyer, who had not traveled to any country linked with the virus but had recently returned from Miami, first fell ill on February 28.
His condition deteriorated rapidly and his neighbor in New Rochelle drove him to the New York Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital in Bronxville, New York, after he started having trouble breathing.
Doctors initially assumed he had pneumonia and he was put in a regular room before being moved to intensive care as he condition continued to deteriorate.
It took four days for him to be diagnosed with coronavirus on March 2 when he became the first case of community spread of the virus in New York.
His wife Adina Garbuz made the decision to transfer Garbuz to the bigger New York Presbyterian Columbia Hospital in Manhattan for treatment.
She insisted on him being intubated for the ambulance ride because she feared he wouldn’t survive because of his breathing troubles.
He slipped into a coma when he arrived at the hospital – a condition he remained in for the next three weeks.
‘After we entered the emergency room, I have absolutely no recollection of anything that transpired… until I woke up from the coma,’ Garbuz said.
His wife also recalled their first conversation after Garbuz woke up from the coma, saying: ‘He was just himself. The first words he said to me were, ‘I love you’.’
Garbuz is pictured with his wife and children. His wife, 20-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter all tested positive for coronavirus after he was hospitalized
Garbuz (left) appeared in the interview with his wife, Adina (together, right), as he revealed that during his first visit to the doctor ‘there was no mention’ of the virus ‘at all’
Adina said they initially thought he had pneumonia but he kept getting ‘worse and worse’.
‘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.
Adina said that as soon as the diagnosis was confirmed, she spent the entire night on the phone to health department officials providing them with information on where they had been and who they had been in contact with.
‘I didn’t want anybody else to get sick,’ she said.
In New York state there are now 335,000 infections and 21,400 deaths. New York City accounts for 178,00 infections and 14,700 deaths.
Before his diagnosis was confirmed, Garbuz had already come into contact with dozens of doctors and other patients. Health officials immediately started to retrace his steps and started testing those he had come into contact with.
In addition to hospital staff, it emerged he had come into contact with members of his Temple Young Israel of New Rochelle synagogue, employees and his law firm and friends.
His immediate family, including his wife, 20-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter all tested positive.
The neighbor who drove him to the hospital also contracted the disease.
It then emerged that his friend’s family-of-five, including three children, tested positive.
Medical staff at the hospital, members of his law firm and attendees at the Temple Young Israel of New Rochelle synagogue, of which Garbuz is a member, also became confirmed as cases.
The outbreak prompted New York Gov Andrew Cuomo to set up a one-mile containment zone in the New Rochelle community where he lived.
The National Guard was also brought in to assist with cleaning public spaces and to deliver food to homes where people are self-quarantined.
At the end of March, Gov Cuomo revealed that Garbuz had been discharged from the hospital and was recovering at home.
‘The ‘patient zero’ – what we call patient zero in Westchester, New Rochelle – who was very sick for a very long time, he has actually gone home,’ Cuomo said at the time.
A large electronic panel instructs motorist to keep vehicle windows closed as they cross into the COVID-19 testing facility located in the containment center of Glen Island Park in the Westchester County city of New Rochelle on March 13
National Guard troops give food to residents in New Rochelle, where Garbuz had unwittingly passed on the virus to family and friends in March