James Cai, a physician’s assistant, believes he contracted COVID-19 while attending a medical conference

By Gabrielle Chung
March 09, 2020 08:20 PM
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The first patient in New Jersey to be diagnosed with the coronavirus is breaking his silence.

James Cai — a 32-year-old physician’s assistant who splits his time between Manhattan and Fort Lee, N.J. — has been hospitalized at Hackensack University Medical Center since Tuesday after he was diagnosed with COVID-19, according to CBS News.

Cai spoke out about his illness from his hospital bed on Sunday, telling the news outlet that he believes contracted the virus while attending a medical conference at Times Square hotel. A non-smoker with no underlying health conditions, Cai said the coronavirus spread quickly to both his lungs.

“People have to take coronavirus seriously,” he shared. “It’s very serious.”

Cai initially went to an urgent care clinic about his symptoms before he was referred to an emergency room, according to CBS News. While doctors continue to communicate with physicians in China about treatment, Cai said that “every day is getting worse” for him.

“The virus is everything,” he said. “Diarrhea, watery eyes, shortness of breath, chest pain, you name it.”

“It happened so quick,” he explained.

In his video interview from quarantine, Cai urged people to take precautions against the coronavirus.

“A lot of people say, ‘It’s okay. Don’t wear a mask.’ I don’t believe that,” he said, adding that he may have merely “caught a sneeze from somebody and caught the virus.”

Confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States as of March 9
Martin Schwartz/PEOPLE

In a press briefing on Monday, a top official from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Americans that “many will become sick” from the virus as it continues to spread across the country.

“It’s fair to say that as the trajectory of the outbreak continues, many people in the United States, will at some point in time, either this year or next, be exposed to this virus. And there’s a good chance that many will become sick,” said Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

Based on data from the World Health Organization’s research in China, Messonnier said that COVID-19 is “highly contagious.”

“And there’s essentially no immunity against this virus in the population, because it’s a new virus,” she said.

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Messonnier emphasized, however, that the disease will be mild for the majority of people, with symptoms such as coughing, sneezing and a fever.

While children appear to be largely safe from developing coronavirus, Messonnier said that older adults are at the highest risk for developing a severe respiratory infection that can lead to death.

As of Monday, there have been 595 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S. and 22 deaths. There are now 113,584 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 3,996 deaths worldwide.