The Westchester lawyer who became known as New York’s COVID-19 “patient zero” said in a new interview he objects to being called the super-spreader — saying other people have told him they were sick before he was and might have had undiagnosed cases of the illness.
Lawrence Garbuz — who was revealed in March 2020 to be the first known carrier in New Rochelle, where the contagion quickly spread — told The Wall Street Journal that he has counseled other COVID-19 patients and that his wife, Adina Lewis, has comforted many spouses.
“If you’re able to sit and talk to somebody and listen, that in itself is very therapeutic,” Garbuz told the newspaper. “I think that we will get through this whole pandemic, when we listen more than we speak.”
The 51-year-old attorney was the second person in New York state revealed to have tested positive for the bug and spent several weeks in a hospital.
An unidentified woman in her late 30s who had recently traveled to Iran became the first when she arrived in the Big Apple.
Garbuz said he has agreed to requests from multiple medical researchers to track his health data in hopes of learning more about the disease’s effects on the lungs, heart and nervous system.
One of his physicians, Columbia University Medical Center’s Dr. Matthew Baldwin, is leading a study to determine whether severe pneumonia related to the virus leads to lung damage that might account for some of the shortness of breath, fatigue and other symptoms, the Journal reported.
“If we really understand what’s causing the problems, we’ll then know what to treat it with, or be able to design the clinical trials for the novel medicines or rehabilitative programs that we hope will make things better for what may be millions and millions of people,” Baldwin told the outlet.
Garbuz and his wife, his partner at a Manhattan law firm whom he calls a superhero, have been working remotely from their home, where their 15-year-old also lives. Their three older children, ages 19 to 23, live in New York City and London.
Lewis and two of her children also became infected.
Last year, the disease quickly spread among dozens in his community — which became the first coronavirus hotspot in the country, prompting Gov. Andrew Cuomo to establish a mile-radius “containment zone” centered on the family’s synagogue.
Garbuz was weaned off a ventilator after nearly two weeks.
“You think Rip Van Winkle had a hard time,” he said. “I wake up and there’s a pandemic. There’s fear in people’s eyes.”
Since his ordeal, during which he had to be placed in a medically induced coma, Garbuz said they have been taking things more easily and enjoying the surrounding nature.
Instead of attending a busy synagogue, the family goes to small, socially distanced services outside on a neighbor’s lawn, where they wear masks according to the Journal. Garbuz also just got vaccinated.
Despite the improved health, Lewis said she notices signs of heightened anxiety.
One day this winter, when Garbuz called for assistance carrying the dry cleaning, one of his children thought he had cried out, “Help, I can’t breathe.”
The couple, which sees the March day when Garbuz woke up last year as a “second anniversary, value their privacy but sometimes get recognized.
“We joke about our 15 minutes of fame,” Lewis said.