NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A New York City doctor has tested positive for the Ebola virus after coming down with symptoms Thursday, officials have announced.
Tests Thursday evening at Bellevue Hospital Center came back positive for Dr. Craig Spencer, Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference.
De Blasio urged New Yorkers not to panic, and reemphasized multiple times along with other officials that Ebola is only transmitted through bodily fluids.
“We want to state at the outset – there is no reason for New Yorkers to be alarmed,” de Blasio said.
As CBS 2’s Lou Young reported, EMS crews picked up Spencer just after noon Thursday. He was rushed from a building on West 147th Street in Hamilton Heights where he lives, and taken to Bellevue by a procession of two city ambulances and a police squad car.
Spencer, a 33-year-old physician who works with Doctors Without Borders, came back a week ago from Guinea where he is believed to have been treating Ebola patients.
At the news conference, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said officials believe Spencer came in contact with four people during the time he was infected and symptomatic, and state officials are already talking to those four people.
Those four people include Spencer’s fiancée and two friends – all of whom are healthy, but have still been quarantined, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Dr. Mary Travis Bassett said.
The fourth person who is in contact with the state is the driver of an Uber car, which Spencer took when he went bowling Wednesday night in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Bassett said. The Uber driver had no direct contact with Spencer, and is not believed to be in any danger, she said.
Uber issued a statement indicating that it also contacted the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the city Health Department, which said the driver and subsequent passengers were not at risk.
Cuomo emphasized that the state of New York has “a full coordinated effort that has been working night and day, coordinating city, state and federal resources.”
“People come through New York, they come through New York’s airports, so we can’t say this is an unexpected circumstance,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo also emphasized that New York state and city are well-prepared for the threat of Ebola, unlike Dallas – where Thomas Eric Duncan became the first person to be diagnosed with the virus in the U.S. and later died.
“We are as ready as one could be for this circumstance. What happened in Dallas was exactly the opposite,” Cuomo said.
“The more facts you know, the less frightening this situation is,” Cuomo added, also stressing the only way to contract the disease is to come into direct contact with infected bodily fluids.
New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said all processes so far have gone well in treating Spencer, and Spencer can likely make a quick recovery from his illness.
“He was immediately brought to the isolation area that Bellevue Hospital has established for patients that could have Ebola,” Zucker said. “He is being taken care of by an excellent team.”
Bassett said Spencer left Guinea on Oct. 14, and returned to the U.S. three days later. He went through mandatory Ebola screening processes upon arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport, officials said.
Spencer was well and asymptomatic until Thursday, but started feeling “tired” on Tuesday, Bassett said.
Still, Bassett went on a three-mile jog on Wednesday. He also went to the High Line and may have stopped at a restaurant on Wednesday before his bowling excursion, Bassett said.
As WCBS 880’s Peter Haskel reported, Bassett said Spencer has also used the subway system. He has ridden on the A Train, the No. 1 Train and the L Train.
But Bassett and Zucker both emphasized that there was virtually no chance that Spencer could have spread the virus on the subway, 1010 WINS’ Carol D’Auria reported.
“The patient in Dallas — many people were exposed to him and in the end, very, very few people got sick. As to the point of riding the subway, I would get on the subway tomorrow and take the subway,” Zucker said.
Bassett added that Spencer had no fever when he was at The Gutter bowling alley at 200 North 14th St. in Brooklyn on Wednesday night. But The Gutter was closed as a result Thursday night, and a CMJ music show planned for the venue was canceled.
The Health Department will visit the bowling alley on Friday, WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell reported.
Bassett emphasized that Spencer was well aware of the Ebola risk in his work, and took precautions from the beginning.
“He did attempt to self-isolate and we’re still getting clear the amount of time he spent outside of his apartment,” Bassett said. “But our impression is that he spent most of his time in his apartment and he was taking his temperature twice a day, he was being mindful about contact with people.”
But Spencer was not shutting himself off, Bassett said.
“During the time that he was leaving his apartment he had no fever. He was monitoring his temperature twice a day, as has been recommended and he had no fever,” she said. “I don’t want to give the impression he was self-quarantining because he did leave his apartment.”
On Thursday, the EMS crews who responded to Spencer’s home were wearing “F Suits,” which are Level D Hazmat gear that covers the entire body, CBS 2 reported.
They stayed with the patient in the back of the ambulance, sources said, so as not to risk possible contamination of the front cabin. A third EMS paramedic drove to Bellevue — one of eight hospitals in New York state with specialized Ebola units.
Mayor de Blasio said at an earlier news conference that Spencer was “very communicative and very precise” with health officials prior to the tests.
The positive results will now be sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for confirmation, CBS 2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported.
Officials added that health care workers treating Spencer will be doing so “while following the utmost safety guidelines and protocols.”
CDC Director Tom Frieden said with Spencer being treated at Bellevue, the concern Thursday night was for the health care workers there. Bellevue has been preparing and drilling for such a scenario, and an additional CDC Ebola response team was headed to the hospital late Thursday, Frieden said.
Doctors and nurses will treat Spencer wearing specialized gear. Patient waste will be specially handled to prevent contamination.
Late Thursday afternoon, authorities on Spencer’s Hamilton Heights block were trying to reassure the public, handing out cards to neighbors telling them what to do if they think they might have been in contact with Spencer.
The fact that Spencer tested positive for Ebola raised concerns about why Dr. Spencer wasn’t quarantined sooner.
“Here’s a doctor who’s gone to West Africa — who’s done incredible work to help people — and he’s come back into the country and nothing has been done to say, ‘Let’s put you aside for 21 days to make sure you don’t have the virus,’” neighbor Joshua Renick told CBS 2’s Tracee Carrasco.
But like city and state officials, CBS 2’s Dr. Max Gomez emphasized that New Yorkers should remain calm.
Spencer would not have been contagious until he developed symptoms, Gomez said. Further, Ebola is not an airborne virus like a cold or the flu – it is only transmitted through bodily fluids such as blood, vomit, and feces.
Even if Spencer had some slight symptoms Wednesday night when he was out and about, he would have had to bleed or vomit to have any chance of spreading the virus – and then someone would have had to touch the bodily fluid and rub it into an open sore or his or her eyes, nose or mouth, Gomez said.
“The risk here is as close to zero as you can get,” Gomez said.
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