- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 23, 2014

A New York City doctor who recently traveled to West Africa has tested positive for Ebola, a major development that had health officials tracing the 33-year-old’s every step in the nation’s largest city.

Mayor Bill de Blasio publicly confirmed that Dr. Craig Spencer, who returned to the U.S. from Guinea via Europe on Oct. 17, is the fourth person to test positive for the viral disease while in the U.S.

The mayor and Gov. Andrew Cuomo insisted the situation is under control.

“We want to state at the outset there is no reason for New Yorkers to be alarmed,” the Democratic mayor said, noting a person must come in contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids to contract Ebola.

City Health Commissioner Mary Travis Bassett said Dr. Spencer took his temperature twice a day and did try to “self-isolate,” although he had used public transportation since arriving back in New York and traveled in an Uber car to go bowling in Brooklyn on Wednesday night, raising fears of broader contamination. 

He did not have any symptoms until he developed a fever early Thursday, and his girlfriend was placed in isolation, according to city health officials.

City officials were careful to balance transparency — they answered every question posed to them — with the hard science about how difficult it would be for the average New Yorker to contract Ebola because of Dr. Spencer.

Mr. Cuomo acknowledged that it had been only a matter of time before the Big Apple confronted Ebola. “We can’t say that this is an unexpected circumstance,” he said.

On the other hand, he said, Dallas was caught flat-footed when Liberian national Thomas Eric Duncan arrived in late September and then tested positive for the virus. New York learned from Dallas’ experience and would apply the lessons, he said.

“I know it’s a frightening situation … but the more facts you know, the less frightening this situation is,” the governor said.

Hours earlier Mr. de Blasio said that “regardless of whether [Dr. Spencer] tests positive for Ebola, we’re hopeful for a good outcome for this individual.”

He echoed those sentiments in the face of a positive diagnosis, praising the quick response of emergency personnel who brought Dr. Spencer to Bellevue Hospital Center and asserting that the city’s Ebola response plan was “scrupulously followed.”

Federal officials said Thursday that Ebola response squads — likened to public health SWAT teams — were being readied to rush to any U.S. city where an Ebola case might be identified.

The Obama administration faced criticism for its slow response to the first Ebola case in the U.S.

Nurses at the Dallas hospital that treated Duncan, who tested positive shortly after arriving in Texas and later died, said they had inadequate equipment and no real training on how to treat an infected person.

Two of them, 26-year-old Nina Pham and 29-year-old Amber Vinson, tested positive for Ebola but are doing well under sophisticated treatment.

Duncan’s illness and death created public fear as health officials had to track down and monitor scores of people with whom he came into contact. No one in the community has been infected, but two nurses who cared for him were.

Since then, CDC officials have said they should have sent more people to Dallas when Duncan’s case first surfaced — particularly infection control specialists, who could have provided better guidance to the hospital.

Earlier this week, the Department of Homeland Security ordered all passengers from affected countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea to funnel into the country through one of five major international airports, and next week states will implement a 21-day monitoring program that requires West African travelers to report their temperatures and any symptoms.

Some Republican lawmakers said that is not enough. In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell on Thursday, they scrutinized the administration’s opposition to a full ban on elective travel between the U.S. and nations reeling from Ebola, and they inquired about rapid diagnostic tools that can be used to detect Ebola more quickly.

“With a disease as deadly as Ebola, there is no margin for error,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, Michigan Republican.

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