By LOUIS FLORES
Following the first hospital patient in New York City diagnosed with Ebola, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) and Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-NYC) appeared at a joint press conference in the main lobby of Bellevue Hospital to reassure the public about state and city public health preparedness.
However, the press conference gave the public nothing but mixed-messages.
The person, who was diagnosed with Ebola, has been identified as Dr. Craig Spencer by The New York Daily News. Dr. Spencer had just returned to New York from providing medical care to people with Ebola in Guinea, and he was described as very informed about Ebola and its symptoms. Guinea is one of three West African nations where the current outbreak of Ebola is primarily taking place.
At the press conference, it was said that Dr. Spencer had been self-monitoring his health following his return from West Africa prior to developing the symptoms that led to his hospitalization at Bellevue Hospital. The doctor's self-monitoring was supposed to reassure the public about the ability of physicians returning from treating people with Ebola in Africa to be able to self-monitor their own health. However, the city’s health commissioner, Dr. Mary Bassett, said that Dr. Spencer was neither self-isolating or self-quarantining himself, because he was also circulating in public. It was reported that Dr. Spencer went outdoors, rode the subways, visited the High Line, dined at a restaurant, took a taxi, went for a jog, and even went to a bowling alley in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Dr. Bassett rightly urged the public believe that Dr. Spencer should not have been contagious during his public excursions, because, according to Dr. Spencer himself, he was not exhibiting Ebola symptoms during those times. Ebola is contagious when people feel most ill from Ebola, when the patient may be bleeding or suffering from diarrhea and nausea. Since Ebola is spread by coming into contact with a person’s bodily fluids, waiting to isolate and treat for a patient when the patient is most sick with Ebola increases the chances that other people may come into contact with bodily fluids, which may be carrying the virus, or with objects, such as clothing or bed sheets, that may have, in turn, come into contact with bodily fluids.
Notwithstanding the reminder that contact with bodily fluids of Dr. Spencer could only transmit Ebola, Dr. Bassett announced that the bowling alley visited by Dr. Spencer was closed due to an abundance of caution. Reports indicated that the bowling alley might be inspected by health officials, giving the public a contradictory message that, whilst Dr. Spencer was not contagious when he visited the bowling alley, the bowling alley still had to be closed. No reports, for example, have been made whether the A, 1, and L subway lines taken by Dr. Spencer will similarly be closed out of an abundance of caution, by comparison. At the press conference, it was also announced that authorities were tracing Dr. Spencer's movements since his return to New York from Guinea, even after the public was assured that Dr. Spencer was not contagious before exhibiting symptoms on Thursday.
Health officials have decided that Dr. Spencer’s fiancée had to be quarantined at Bellevue. However, health officials have not yet decided where two of Dr. Spencer’s friends, who had contact with him, will be quarantined, according to a report published by The New York Times.
On CNN, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the network’s chief medical correspondent, said that federal health authorities with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention needed to determine whether medical professionals, such as Dr. Spencer, who returned from providing care to people with Ebola in West Africa, should observe a 21-day period of self-quarantine.
The lack of any official health guidance on whether quarantines should be mandatory or whether quarantines must be observed in a hospital-supervised setting undermines political assurances that the government is ready to deal with Ebola. Since Monday, Progress Queens has been asking whether people, who may have come into contact with others, who are known to have Ebola, should be required to observe a 21-day period of quarantine in a hospital setting, but state and city health officials will not address the issue.
Contrary to the constant reminder that state and city health officials have been planning for months to safely treat people with Ebola, the news program NY1 The Call showed video of New York Police Department officers discarding face masks and latex gloves, which they had used in connection with securing Dr. Spencer’s apartment, into a corner garbage can on a public sidewalk near Dr. Spencer’s apartment – a blatant disregard for the safe disposal of possibly hazardous medical waste.
Some New Yorkers took to Twitter to express outrage that state and city health officials are assuring the public that the government is prepared to treat people with Ebola following the closure of many hospitals in recent years, including Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn.