A Friendly Reminder about a Contagious Virus

Julie Lam
5 min readMar 5, 2020


Dear New Yorkers,

As I write to you, 22 New Yorkers have been infected with coronavirus, 2,733 are currently in home isolation.

A healthcare worker who had recently returned from Iran marked the first case in New York. She and her husband have been isolated in their home in Manhattan.

An attorney in his 50s is the second patient to test positive. He is in critical condition at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

The infected community of family members and neighbors have spent time in close proximity to the attorney, who lives in Westchester and travels to Midtown Manhattan for work. State heath detectives are tracking every case and ordering containment measures.

Currently, five schools have been closed as a precaution, including The SAR Academy in the Bronx, Yeshiva University’s campus in Manhattan’s Washington Heights, New York Law School in TriBeCa, Collegiate School on the Upper West Side and Spence on the Upper East Side.

As reported by NYTimes, the attorney and members of his family have also traveled to Miami and Israel prior the time of onset. The health commissioner ordered the synagogue, Young Israel of New Rochelle, to halt all services, and ordered congregants who attended a bat mitzvah and a funeral there to self-quarantine. The attorney became ill on Feb 22, admitted to New York-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital in Bronxville on Feb 27. He was misdiagnosed as having regular pneumonia, but released after testing negative for the common flu. His condition worsened days later. 10 days after his time of onset, on March 2, he was tested for coronavirus.

Let’s look at Wuhan, China. On January 19, 40,000 families cooked and shared their dishes at a potluck banquet — and the provincial government noted the capacity of the new coronavirus to spread from human to human. Eight doctors had come forward and shared their insights on how the symptoms resemble SARS. Not only did the provincial government move forward with the banquet, it rigorously promoted it because it was an opportunity for the city of Hubei to compete for a Guinness World Record for hosting the largest potluck in the world. At the festive banquet, 13,986 dishes, all labeled with personal notes from each family, were shared by tens of thousands, sitting together, sharing food, breathing normally, eating and talking. Just one day after the big banquet, a team of 15 doctors, nurses and medical workers were infected by a patient they operated on.

The “Banquet of Ten Thousand People” held before the Spring Festival led to a massive outbreak in the Bai Bu-ting Community of Wuhan. Nearly 40 households from four districts of Anju Garden and more than 20 households in Lily Garden contracted the new coronavirus.

More than ever, people need education as well as reminding. Public awareness shouldn’t be left to the administrative that manages the CDC website or TV anchors. As someone who has worked on many public awareness campaigns in my 20-year advertising career, I have been following the crisis since December. I know people in Wuhan. I have been conducting research for a book with a working title, Warning from Wuhan.

Wuhan is the central hub of China. As in New York City, people there live in high-rise communities, shop in supermarkets, malls, travel by subway and highway. At the beginning the government scrambled to come up with diagnostic tools and labs, facilities for treatment and medical supply. Though masks and hazmat suits are manufactured in China’s factories, their inventory couldn’t meet the demand, even with government-mandated 24-hour operation. Medical workers have been sending S.O.S. messages to the world for aid.

More than three months since the first case patient was confirmed in Wuhan, the virus continues to spread. Wuhan has been locked down since January 23, 2019. Troops have dug up the roads to curb escape. Gates to infected communities welded to ensure containment. Drones unceasingly give warning. New laws forbid citizens to leave their homes without permission. Citizens are monitored by sophisticated digital tracking system and neighborhood swat team. Refusal to masking or quarantine get dragnetted. Government built new hospitals and converted stadiums, convention centers, hotels and schools to keep the infected isolated. Neighboring provinces even have walls built.

Even with these draconian measures, the virus continues to spread. I hope what has happened there will not happen here.

COVID-19 has a relatively low fatality. There are a lot of people with less severe cases. It is asymptomatic, meaning a carrier might not show any symptoms. The symptoms can recur, meaning you can get sick a second time. Like a flu virus, it can also stay infectious on inanimate surface for a long time. With these qualities, the virus becomes very difficult to be detected or contained.

Unfortunately, because of our lax testing policy and major issues in diagnostic supplies and process, the U.S. Center for Disease Control has missed the window to stop the spread of the virus in this country already. Numerous missteps happened in California, now in NYC.

Paranoia about the fact the SARS pandemic had killed over 600 in China and half of the casualties were Hongkongers. My cousin, who owns a firm in Hong Kong, had all the desks in her office rearranged. Everyone sits facing the wall. Keeping a distance is the best way. You cannot be too sure. This virus can spread in any setting.

According to Mayor De Blasio, the city today can only handle a few dozens tests per day when we have only one chance to curb the first community outbreak that involves a bat mitzvah, a funeral and schools.

I live not far from the Mount Sinai Hospital where the first case patient has been treated. Not long ago, I was diagnosed with a chronic kidney disease. My kidneys would inflame whenever I am sickened by virus, bacterium or toxin. Because of my susceptibility to renal hemorrhage, my family practice good hygiene and take all precautions around me.

Containment requires cooperation, self-reporting, willingness to be disciplined. These are huge sacrifices to our freedom. But only if we work together can we protect our home. I am writing to you because I care about our community. We must remind ourselves and our children to be alert. Health detectives are tracking down people and mandating preventive measures, but we do need to be proactive and there’s nothing wrong with being too careful!

Stay home when showing symptoms. Avoid crowded gatherings. Wash hands thoroughly. The virus spreads through saliva and spitting. Get rid of habits like touching things and touching your face. Don’t share food. No hugging and kissing until it’s over. As a mother, I am reminding everyone I know.





Julie Lam

Writer. Photographer. Founder. MaskTogetherAmerica & Mask with Us. Public Health Advocate.