Preparing for Ebola in Brooklyn

Preparing for Ebola in Brooklyn
Associated Press / Nati Harnik

A day before a Manhattan hospital admitted New York’s first confirmed Ebola patient, health officials convened Downtown to assure residents that they are ready to contain the contagion.

Manhattan doctor Craig Spencer, fresh off a stint treating Ebola patients in Guinea as a member of Doctors Without Borders, was rushed to Bellevue Hospital Center in his home borough with a high fever and nausea and tested positive for the deadly disease on Oct. 23. Spencer’s admission set into motion the emergency-response system hospital administrators and government officials laid out at Borough Hall the evening prior.

An official from the Office of Emergency Management stressed that the city is ready for exactly the kind of threat presented by Spencer’s Ebola symptoms.

“Every city agency in New York City is working night and day to make sure that we’re prepared,” said Mordy Goldfeder, a senior city health and medical planner.

Representatives from Kings County Hospital Center and Brooklyn Hospital Center were on hand to explain what their staffs will do to detect Ebola, and how they will transfer patients to Bellevue, New York’s designated hospital for Ebola treatment, when cases appear.

Ghassan Jamaleddine, chief medical officer at Kings County, said his staff started getting ready about six weeks ago, conducting trainings for staff members about how to handle patients, and even sending in “secret shoppers” who test medical worker responses by pretending to exhibit symptoms. They also trained personnel on how to properly put on and take off their protective equipment. Lapses in protective-gear protocol are thought to be how two nurses in Texas caught the disease while treating Thomas Eric Duncan, the first Ebola patient in the United States, who later died.

Having Bellevue as a central hospital eases the resource strain that Ebola treatment creates, Jamaleddine said.

Michael Hochberg, chairman of emergency medicine at Brooklyn Hospital, said his staff has been performing Ebola screenings on every patient admitted to the facility since August. Initial screenings involve asking the patient questions about recent travel and the symptoms they are experiencing. If their answers suggest they could be at risk for Ebola, they will be isolated and evaluated by a doctor who will decide whether or not to send them to Bellevue, he said.

Notably, Duncan is reported to have lied about his Ebola exposure when flying into the United States.

A representative from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Karen Maybank, broke down infection statistics for the disease so far. Globally, there were 75,000 suspected cases diagnosed as of Oct. 7, resulting in 3,000 deaths, she said. Most of the cases were in the West African countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea, but only Duncan and the two nurses who treated him had been diagnosed in the United States — before Spencer.

“This really is the worst outbreak of Ebola that we’ve ever seen,” Maybank said.

But she also explained that contracting the disease is difficult because it only spreads from person to person via direct physical contact, and that the most contagious cases are in people too sick to put big groups of people at risk by traveling through the city.

“If someone is that sick with Ebola, they are not going to be walking on the street,” she said.

Spencer stayed mostly in his apartment in the Harlem section of Manhattan, but had a leisurely day out and about last Wednesday, going for a three-mile run, visiting Manhattan’s High Line park, and taking a trip to the Williamsburg bowling alley The Gutter, according to reports. He rode the A, L, and 1 trains, as well as an Uber taxi that day, reports say. His fiancee is quarantined at Bellevue, but shows no symptoms, and two of Spencer’s friends have self-quarantined, per reports. Still, officials insist there is no cause for widespread alarm.

Hochberg thinks media coverage of the outbreak has people more worried than they need to be.

“It’s understandable to be frightened about this based upon what you read,” he said. “You’d think that tomorrow you’re going to wake up and it’ll be the ‘Walking Dead’ or something. And that’s not reality.”

The city’s health department pored over The Gutter and gave it the all-clear early in the afternoon. It was shuttered at 1:30 pm, but does not usually open until 2 pm on Fridays, according to its website.

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260–8310. E-mail him at mperl‌man@c‌ngloc‌al.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.
Extremely dangerous and incredibly close-up: It may look like a harmless soba noodle under the microscope, but Ebola is no joke.
Center for Disease Control