Officials Urge Calm as CDC Confirms Positive Ebola Test for NYC Doctor Back From Africa

Mayor de Blasio says there's no reason to be alarmed by the diagnosis: "New Yorkers who have not been exposed to an affected person's bodily fluids are not at all at risk"

Top city officials tried to tamp down New Yorkers' fears Friday after a doctor who recently returned from West Africa, where he was treating Ebola patients for Doctors Without Borders, tested positive for the deadly virus, saying the city is "fully prepared" to handle the disease.

Craig Spencer marks the first Ebola case in New York City and the fourth case diagnosed in the United States.

Barricades were set up Friday outside Spencer's Hamilton Heights apartment, where he spent much of the last 10 days with his fiancee, as specially trained team members went in to decontaminate it, a process that would take five or six hours. 

They're using a "hospital grade" chemical spray to clean the apartment. No other apartments in the building had to be evacuated, said Patrick Borges, one of two team members certified to enter. 

Spencer called health officials Thursday morning after registering a 100.3-degree temperature and experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms. Two rounds of testing confirmed he had Ebola. 

Shortly after the preliminary results were released, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo held a joint news conference at Bellevue to disseminate information about the patient and his activities and to assuage fears over a potential outbreak.

At a news conference Friday, de Blasio reiterated what he said a day earlier -- that Ebola is an "extremely difficult" disease to contract. Health officials say the chances of the average New Yorker contracting Ebola, which is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, are slim. Someone can't be infected just by being near someone who's sick with Ebola. Only sick people are contagious. 

Govs. Cuomo and Christie also announced Friday that a mandatory 21-day quarantine is now in place for anyone flying into Kennedy or Newark airports after having contact with Ebola-infect patients in West Africa. 

That would include someone like the health care worker who landed at Newark Airport Friday, and was taken to University Hospital after developing a fever. The worker, like Spencer, had recently treated Ebola patients in West Africa, officials said. 

Earlier, health officials detailed Spencer's actions in the 48 hours before he was admitted to the hospital, saying he took the subway to Brooklyn, bowled at an alley in Williamsburg, took an Uber cab, went to a restaurant and for a jog and visited the High Line before he began exhibiting symptoms.

They reiterated Ebola is not contagious until symptoms set in and said Friday that Spencer is in stable condition in the isolation ward at Bellevue.

"He poses no risk," de Blasio said.

It's "extremely unlikely, the probability being close to nil" that any subway riders who shared a car with Spencer could contract Ebola, officials say

Spencer's fiancee, who lives with him, is quarantined at Bellevue, but health officials say she has not shown symptoms consistent with Ebola. Two friends who had spent time with Spencer before he developed symptoms are under a mandatory quarantine order for 21 days since their last contact with the doctor and will be visited by health officials during that time. They have not shown any signs of the illness, officials said.

An Uber driver who drove Spencer earlier this week was not considered at-risk because there was no physical contact, authorities said.

On NBC's "TODAY" show Friday, Cuomo said that the city and state were both prepared for the case and had been getting ready for a diagnosis for weeks. He said he and other officials had expected an Ebola case because the city is a key entry point for travelers coming from other countries.

"This is a situation that we hoped wouldn’t happen but expected that it would," Cuomo said. "This is New York."

Part of that preparation involves sending out the Health Department's team of "disease detectives" to trace Spencer's steps and identify any individuals with whom he may have come into contact or places he visited in the hours before he developed symptoms. A full delineation was expected Friday.

City officials have praised first responders, hospital workers and Spencer for reacting quickly.

"From the moment the call came in the process proceeded exactly as dictated," the mayor said Friday. "The teams were drilled. They executed exactly and correctly. We are fully prepared to handle Ebola."

De Blasio urged anyone who feels they or a loved one meet the qualifications for Ebola to call 911 immediately or go to a hospital emergency room.

Spencer, 33, had been feeling well since he flew into John F. Kennedy International Airport from Guinea on Oct. 17, according to officials. He participated in the enhanced screening for all returning travelers from the West African countries affected by Ebola and did not show any symptoms.

The doctor continued to take his temperature twice a day as he settled back home and tried his best to isolate himself, officials said.

On Thursday morning, between 10 and 11 a.m., he felt feverish and called 911. He was transported from his apartment on 147th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue to Bellevue, a designated Ebola center with a specially built isolation ward, officials said.

Spencer was generally well until Wednesday, when he began to feel slightly fatigued. Thursday morning was the first time he had a fever, according to Bassett.

On Tuesday, Spencer visited the High Line and the Blue Bottle coffee shop there, then went to The Meatball Shop on Greenwich Avenue. On Wednesday, Spencer went for a three-mile jog on Riverside Drive, then to The Gutter bowling alley in Brooklyn. According to New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Travis Bassett, Spencer rode the No. 1, A and L lines before he felt ill.

Health officials visited The Gutter and the coffee shop Friday and determined both areas were safe. They were working to clear The Meatball Shop Friday afternoon. Officials also have Spencer's MetroCard to track where he's traveled, though they say there's a "close to nil" chance anyone was exposed on the subway.

Spencer is an emergency room doctor at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, but has not seen any patients there or been to work there since returning from overseas, according to the hospital.

The hospital said in a statement Spencer "went to an area of medical crisis to help a desperately underserved population. He is a committed and responsible physician who always put his patients first."

"Our thoughts are with him, and we wish him all the best at this time," the statement said.

Doctors Without Borders said it was notified about Spencer's fever Thursday morning and the organization in turn immediately notified New York City health officials.

As of Oct. 14, the organization said 16 staff members have been infected and nine have died.

Three other cases of Ebola have been diagnosed in the United States, two of them nurses who contracted it in Dallas while treating Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian who died in the U.S.

Nina Pham was declared free of the virus Friday, two days after Amber Vinson was declared Ebola-free.

On Tuesday, the NBC News freelancer diagnosed with Ebola while working in Liberia was declared free of the virus. Responding to Spencer's diagnosis Thursday, Ashoka Mukpo tweeted, "Ebola is 'sudden onset.' I was fine all afternoon and then ran a temp at night. I suspect it was the same with the New York case."

Four American aid workers, including three doctors, were infected with Ebola while working in Africa and were transferred to the U.S. for treatment in recent months. All recovered.

One of those aid workers, Ken Brantley, said in an exclusive statement to NBC News that he is praying for Spencer and his family. He added that it appears that New York has handled the case the right way.

"From everything I've read and heard about his circumstances, it sounds like New York has done everything right to contain this case," Brantley said. "I hope the people of New York can likewise set an example for the rest of the country by handling this event with reason and calm instead of panic."

Health care workers are vulnerable because of close contact with patients when they are their sickest and most contagious. In West Africa this year, more than 440 health workers have contracted Ebola and about half have died.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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