An attorney seen as being a key figure in the coronavirus outbreak in the New York City area has said he has no idea how he contracted the deadly virus.
Lawrence Garbuz, 50, an Orthodox Jew from suburban New Rochelle, told Savannah Guthrie in an interview aired Monday on NBC’s “Today” show that he went to his doctor with a cough and a low-grade fever and that COVID-19 never even came up. The doctor sent him to the emergency room.
He was admitted to the hospital in February, and as his condition worsened, he was put into a medically induced coma.
“After we entered the emergency room, I have absolutely no recollection of anything that transpired until I woke up from the coma,” he said. “So it’s as if three weeks of my life had completely disappeared and I was asleep for all of it.”
Garbuz, known popularly as New York City’s coronavirus “Patient Zero” (though he is unlikely to truly be its first), was directly connected to at least 37 other confirmed cases in New York, including his wife, two of their children, and a neighbor. Following his diagnosis, a one-mile containment zone was set up around his synagogue and the New Rochelle community. The National Guard was called in to help with disinfecting public areas and delivering food to those who were under quarantine.
Garbuz, who describes himself as a lawyer who sits at a desk all day, said that at the time of his diagnosis, US doctors were worried about people who traveled abroad, especially to China, where COVID-19 first emerged in the city of Wuhan. He had not traveled to China or any country known to have a significant virus outbreak at the time. Garbuz still does not know where he became infected with the virus.
He first fell ill on February 28 and his condition then quickly deteriorated. At the time, Garbuz was healthy and had no pre-existing medical conditions. Doctors at first thought he had pneumonia and it was only four days later that he was diagnosed with COVID-19.
His wife, Adina, told Guthrie that she then decided to transfer her husband to the bigger New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, and asked for him to be intubated on the ambulance ride.
“He was suffering, and I couldn’t watch it,” she said. “I’m looking at him, and I just didn’t think he was going to make an ambulance ride in that state.”
“My wife saved my life,” Garbuz said of her actions.
Garbuz woke in his hospital room to photos of his family, who were not allowed to visit him in the hospital.
His first words to her after he woke up were “I love you,” Adina recalled.
Immediately after her husband’s diagnosis, Adina spent hours in contact with health authorities informing them of the people she and her husband had had contact with and where they had been.
Staff at the hospital, members of Garbuz’s Manhattan law firm, and some of those who attend the Young Israel of New Rochelle synagogue, of which Garbuz is a member, were later found to be infected with the virus.
Garbuz was released from the hospital at the end of March. He said he has tried to ignore his ignominy as one of the first people in the state to get the virus.
New York State has become the epic-center of the coronavirus infection in the US, with 335,000 infections and 21,400 deaths.