NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Health officials on Friday were tracing the steps of a Hamilton Heights doctor who became New York City’s first Ebola patient.
As CBS 2’s Dave Carlin reported, crews in protective suits on Friday were also scrubbing, decontaminating, and throwing away linens, towels and trash at Dr. Craig Spencer’s building on 147th Street.
Watching the professionals arrive in protective gear impressed many of Spencer’s neighbors in the building, after the shock of seeing officers in the neighborhood and even their mail carrier wearing gloves and masks.
Neighbors said action and answers are easing their fears of the unknown.
“I’ve lived through polio, the AIDS epidemic, flus, blizzards, 9/11 — this is just one more in a series of things you just have to get your information, get your facts straight, and then act accordingly,” said building resident Riqui Lawrence.
“I’m more concerned about him than I am for myself,” added resident Tanya Thomas.
“Everybody’s actually more scared of the media being here, it’s a circus,” another resident said.
As 1010 WINS’ Al Jones reported, Lawrence said he hopes the Centers for Disease Control will now quarantine health care workers returning from West Africa, but he is still not worried.
“He didn’t throw up in the elevator or anything for us to come in contact for his bodily fluids, so I don’t really have anything to fear from him,” he said.
A company that handles Ebola decontamination was sent to Spencer’s home. Two workers entered the apartment building without comment shortly before noon Friday.
The Long Island City, Queens-based biohazard crew was brought in to haul out the linens, toiletries and food before disinfecting.
The NYPD took the apartment building doors off the hinges as they rushed to get EMS workers in full Ebola gear up to Spencer’s apartment as police walked around the neighborhood in masks Thursday. Spencer was then taken to Bellevue Hospital.
He returned from West Africa last Friday after a tour with Doctors Without Borders. He arrived at John F. Kennedy Airport, passing the extensive CDC screening process.
Some concern has also mounted about the places Spencer went in the day before he came down with Ebola systems. City officials have provided the following timeline:
Tuesday, Oct. 21:
• 3 p.m.: The Meatball Shop, 64 Greenwich Ave.;
• 4:30 p.m.: The High Line and Blue Bottle Coffee;
• 5:30 p.m.: No. 1 Train to 145th Street.
Wednesday, Oct. 22:
• 1 p.m.: Running along Riverside Drive.
• 2 p.m.: Corbin Hill Farm CSA at 143rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue;
• 5:30 p.m. A and L trains to The Gutter bowling alley, at 200 North 14th St. in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
• 8:30 p.m.: Uber cab back to Hamilton Heights apartment.
Thursday, Oct. 23:
• 10:15 a.m.: Reported fever.
City health officials stressed that Spencer “would not have been contagious until he developed symptoms,” which he first saw Thursday morning and stressed that Ebola “is only transmitted by close contact with bodily fluids of an infected person.”
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.
City Health Commissioner Mary Travis Bassett added that Spencer had no fever when he was at the bowling alley Wednesday night. The Gutter issued a statement Friday on their Facebook page saying they “voluntarily decided to close” Thursday night “as a precautionary measure.”
And while The Gutter bowling alley was closed for cleaning for a day after Spencer’s visit, medical detectives were told that Spencer had no symptoms when he was there.
“Doctors advising the Health Department have told us that our staff and customers were at no risk,” The Gutter said.
The bowling alley worked with the city’s Health Department to clean and sanitize the bar.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams emphasized that it is safe to bowl at The Gutter, 1010 WINS’ Darius Radzius reported.
“I’m going to come in and put my fingers in the same holes to carry a bowling ball and enjoy the game,” Adams said.
On Friday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said both the bowling alley and the High Line coffee shop had been assessed and cleared.
And as CBS 2’s Sonia Rincon reported, the High Line was also crowded as always on Friday.
“We joked that we shouldn’t be touching anything, but I’m sure we’re fine,” said Mitch McGivern, a tourist from Canada.
“People aren’t panicking or anything like that,” added High Line vendor Bill Peaks.
The Meatball Shop on Greenwich Avenue also got the all-clear from the Health Department.
“They determined there’s no risk to customers, and employees that work here,” said city Office of Emergency Management Deputy Commissioner Frank McCarton. “People should not be concerned.”
But indeed some people were concerned. They were also quick to criticize, saying a doctor who knew he was at risk should have known better than to go out on the town.
“I think I would probably stay home, and not go out eating, and rest,” said Chelsea resident Daniel Nardicio. “He could’ve ordered in.”
Meanwhile, the EMTs who picked Spencer up at his apartment are part of a team of special units that had trained for such scenarios.
“When these units arrive at the scene, they confirm that the patient is a possible Ebola patient. They call for a second ambulance. That second ambulance is so those two members can drive the vehicles to the hospital and never get exposed,” said Israel Miranda, president of the Uniformed EMTs, Paramedics & Fire Inspectors Local 2507.
Miranda said EMTs on the front lines and have to be kept safe. Once they get to the hospital, there are more procedures.
“To be safe, they clean the suit. They spray it down with a bleach water solution. Then they cut it from behind and they peel it off like an onion off the person so that person never comes in contact with the outside of the suit,” he said.
Meanwhile, Spencer’s subway use just before he fell ill had some riders reacting with merely a shrug. But not so for Marta Lieba, who said wearing a face mask calmed her anxiety about a disease she admits she knows almost nothing about.
“Everybody’s worried,” Lieba said.
But a man on the subway called Lieba’s face mask an “overreaction.”
“Find out the facts. No way. No,” the man said.
Psychologist Dr. Harris Straytner agreed that some people have been overreacting.
“Ebola is not going to hurt New Yorkers,” said Straytner, of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
Stratyner said fear of Ebola can be managed by focusing on medical facts instead of hype surrounding this latest case.
“One person and we already are jumping to death?” he said. “That just doesn’t make sense.”
Dr. Paul Offit, an infectious disease specialist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, emphasized that there are plenty of everyday practices that are far more dangerous than Ebola.
“We fear Ebola, but yet we get in our car and drive to work when we have a much better chance of being killed there,” Offit said.
And Dr. Irwin Redlener with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health said anger at Spencer is not warranted or fair and that mandatory isolation measures could impede the work against Ebola in Africa.
“You know, they’re going into danger. This is heroic work they’re doing. They knew on top of that, when they got back, they’d be mandatory quarantined for another three weeks. That might tilt more people to decide not to go there,” Dr. Redlener told WCBS 880’s Paul Murnane.
Bassett said health officials are also tracing Spencer’s contacts to find anyone who may be at risk. Spencer’s fiancee and two friends have been quarantined, but have no symptoms.
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