NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — City and state officials are urging New Yorkers Friday not to panic now that the first case of Ebola has been confirmed in New York City.
Dr. Craig Spencer, a member of Doctors Without Borders, became the city’s first Ebola patient on Thursday.
He reported Thursday morning coming down with a fever and gastrointestinal distress and was being treated Friday in an isolation ward at Bellevue Hospital Center, a designated Ebola center.
Speaking at a news conference Friday afternoon, Mayor Bill de Blasio said “there is no cause for alarm.”
“New Yorkers who have not been exposed to an infected person’s bodily fluids are simply not at risk,” he said. “There is no reason for New Yorkers to change their daily routine in any way.”
Officials revealed Thursday night that Spencer took the subway the day before he came down with symptoms. But Mayor de Blasio, who himself took the subway to work on Friday, told New Yorkers to go about their business and not to change their routines.
Everyone was advised to take mass transit with confidence, because they are not going to catch Ebola because of Spencer.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Spencer “presented himself” to the hospital when he had a 100.3 fever, not 103 as officials initially reported Thursday night. The health department blamed a transcription error for the incorrect information.
“It was 100.3 so as soon as he felt the fever coming on, he presented himself at Bellevue,” Cuomo said Friday on “CBS This Morning.”
New York City’s health department on Friday confirmed that the doctor’s temperature was 100.3.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has dispatched an Ebola response team to New York. The city’s health commissioner, Mary Travis Bassett, said Friday that the CDC had confirmed Spencer’s initial test results as positive for Ebola.
She said Spencer was in stable condition.
Doctors at the hospital have reported he has been cooperative – giving details of his activities since his return and meeting with his family.
“He’s talking on the cell phone to a lot of folks,” said Dr. Ram Raju, president of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation. “He’s cheerful.”
Heath officials have repeatedly given assurances that the disease is spread only by direct contact with bodily fluids such as saliva, blood, vomit and feces, and that the dried virus survives on surfaces for only a matter of hours.
“Ebola is an extremely hard disease to contract. It’s transmitted only through direct contact with the blood or other bodily fluids of another individual,” de Blasio said Friday. “It cannot be transmitted through casual contact, it cannot be transmitted in airborne fashion.”
De Blasio also said the best thing New Yorkers can do is get flu shots so that city health professionals do not have to be distracted by ruling out Ebola. The early symptoms of the flu and Ebola are similar.
“We have to make sure our medical professionals can focus on this crisis properly,” de Blasio said. “They don’t need to have false reports or misleading dynamics clogging up their efforts.”
De Blasio said New Yorkers should call 911 or go to an emergency room if they have possible Ebola symptoms and were in the three West African countries affected by the disease in the last 21 days.
“I know it’s a frightening situation. I know when you watched it on the news and it was about Dallas it was frightening. That it’s here in New York, it’s more frightening,” Cuomo said Thursday. “But the more facts you know, the less frightening this situation is.”
President Barack Obama spoke to Cuomo and de Blasio Thursday night and offered the federal government’s support. He asked them to stay in close touch with Ron Klain, his “Ebola czar,” and public health officials in Washington.
Health officials have been tracing Spencer’s contacts to identify anyone who may be at risk. Bassett said Spencer’s fiancee and two friends had been quarantined but showed no symptoms.
Spencer returned from West Africa last Friday after treating Ebola patients in Guinea with Doctors Without Borders. He arrived at John F. Kennedy Airport, passing the extensive CDC screening process.
“When he arrived in the United States, he was also well with no symptoms,” said Bassett.
Doctors Without Borders said per the guidelines it provides its staff members on their return from Ebola assignments, “the individual engaged in regular health monitoring and reported this development immediately.”
Travelers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone must report in with health officials daily and take their temperature twice a day, as Spencer did. He also limited his direct contact with people, health officials said.
“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.”
Bassett said Spencer “reported no watery diarrhea, no vomiting, no loss of control of bodily fluids,” and thus, there is no reason to believe he contaminated his apartment.
De Blasio said a team of disease detectives are tracking Spencer’s movements since his return home.
According to a timeline provided by city officials, before Spencer fell ill, he went to the High Line park and to the Meatball Shop restaurant on Greenwich Avenue Tuesday, Basset said. He also went to Blue Bottle Coffee on the High Line.
On Wednesday, he went on a 3-mile jog along Riverside Drive and later took an Uber taxi to a Brooklyn bowling alley.
He also rode the subway several times — the A train, the No. 1 train and the L train.
“There is no indication the patient was contagious when he rode the subway,” the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said in a statement. “There is no indication he emitted any bodily fluids on the subway. There were no reports of bodily fluids on any of the subway lines he rode.”
He felt tired starting Tuesday and felt worse on Thursday when he and his fiancee made a joint call to authorities to detail his symptoms and his travels. EMTs in full Ebola gear met Spencer at his Hamilton Heights building and took him to Bellevue in an ambulance surrounded by police squad cars.
On Friday, Spencer’s Hamilton Heights apartment was decontaminated. While he is treated at Bellevue, his fiancée, Morgan Dixon, has also been placed in isolation.
Two close friends have also been placed in isolation at their apartments. Neither Dixon nor the friends have shown symptoms.
Also Friday, de Blasio said both the bowling alley and the High Line coffee shop have been assessed and cleared. The Meatball Shop will be temporarily closed as it is assessed.
Spencer, 33, works at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. He had not seen any patients or been to the hospital since his return, the hospital said in a statement, calling him a “dedicated humanitarian” who “went to an area of medical crisis to help a desperately underserved population.”
Cuomo said Spencer acted responsibly, even though he rode the subway, bowled and rode a cab. The governor said the doctor obviously felt he wasn’t symptomatic” when he went out “in a limited way.”
“What the doctor knew was this is not like the flu or the common cold,” Cuomo said. “It’s not contagious until you’re symptomatic and the more ill you become, the more contagious it is.”
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.
Still, Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie did announce Friday that New York and New Jersey set up a new screening system that goes above and beyond the guidelines already set up by federal officials.</a.
“We believe it’s appropriate to increase the current screening procedures from people coming from affected countries from the current (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention screening procedures),” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday afternoon. “We believe it within the State of New York and the State of New Jersey’s legal rights.”
The patients with the highest level of possible exposure will be automatically quarantined for 21 days at a government-regulated facility. Those with a lower risk will be monitored for temperature and symptoms, Cuomo explained.
Bassett and New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker both emphasized Thursday that there was virtually no chance that Spencer could have spread the virus on the subway.
“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.
Zucker said all processes so far have gone well in treating Spencer and he can likely make a quick recovery from his illness.
First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris called Spencer “a very brave young doctor” who was “doing the right thing for a lot of people and he does deserve everybody’s support,”
“This is the kind of aid worker that makes you proud to be an American,” Shorris told 1010 WINS.
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