New York City’s first confirmed case of Ebola has raised complicated logistical issues of how to trace the possible contacts of an infected patient in a city of more than 8 million people with a sprawling mass transit system and a large population of workers who commute every day from surrounding suburbs and states.
By the time the patient, Dr. Craig Spencer, an emergency doctor who had recently returned from Guinea, arrived at Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan by ambulance Thursday, he was seriously ill, with a 103-degree temperature and the beginnings of diarrhea, officials said.
Spencer complicated the tracing process when he told health officials that just the night before, he had gone bowling in Brooklyn, making the long trip there from his home in Upper Manhattan by subway and then returning in a car hired via Uber.
It was soon clear that health authorities were worried, as word emerged that they were isolating not just Spencer’s fiancée but also two friends who had been with him in the two days before he arrived at the hospital.
City officials were making plans to provide case managers for every family or person who might need to be quarantined.
New York has some advantage in that it may be able to learn from what happened in Dallas, where two nurses became infected with Ebola after treating the first Ebola patient in the United States, Thomas Eric Duncan, who died of the virus on Oct. 8.
Israel Miranda, president of the union of uniformed emergency medical technicians and paramedics, said Thursday that he was satisfied with the way Spencer’s transport to the hospital had been handled.
Two ambulances responded, and two paramedics fully encased in protective suits brought Spencer out of his apartment.
When the paramedics left the hospital, their suits were sprayed with disinfectant and cut off from behind by a special unit, Miranda said. The ambulance was also decontaminated.
He said the paramedics would have their temperatures taken twice a day for 21 days.
Soothing the fears of those who may have been at The Gutter, the Brooklyn bowling alley Spencer visited, or who might have ridden in a subway car with him could well be more challenging.
Spencer has been isolated in a seventh-floor ward at Bellevue, the city’s main public hospital, that was specially designed to treat highly infectious tuberculosis patients. The unit is locked and guarded, with rooms where health care workers can be decontaminated and cameras can monitor patients remotely.