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For crew, a virus is fought with scrub brushes and cleanser

NEW YORK — Around the time New Yorkers started fretting over the city’s first diagnosis of Ebola on Thursday, Sal Pain began drawing up plans for four decontamination chambers, customized for a cramped Harlem hallway.

The narrow dimensions of the hallway — it was only 4 feet wide — outside the fifth-floor apartment that Dr. Craig Spencer, the Ebola patient, shares with his fiancée was among the more difficult situations confronted by hazardous-materials workers in their efforts to contain the virus. The standard decontamination station, a bulging, inflatable unit, would not do.

So Pain, the chief safety officer for Bio-Recovery Corp., which has cleaned Spencer’s apartment and the Gutter, a bowling alley that Spencer had visited in Brooklyn, improvised. He lined the hallway walls with 6 millimeters of plastic Friday morning, and then made a frame out of PVC pipe. About 12 hours later, after sterilizing everything from four bicycles to a cuticle cutter, the 10-member crew stood in the hallway and washed themselves with chemical and water showers.

As public officials sought to quell fear among New Yorkers, Pain and his team worked in the trenches, trying to make those reassurances real.

Despite the low chances that Spencer had contaminated the bowling alley he visited Wednesday, the night before he registered a fever, a hazardous-materials crew worked from about 10 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Saturday to stanch any doubt.

Wearing $1,500 protective suits, the crew of around 10 workers wiped down video game consoles and toilet seats, pool cues and billiard balls. They reached inside the finger holes in the bowling balls with a wire brush and a rag dipped in chemical cleaners.

The bowling alley’s smooth floors and concrete walls simplified the cleaning, Pain said, but Spencer’s apartment was more cluttered. He also did not expect the apartment to be as big as it was, more than 1,000 square feet.

By midnight on Friday, Pain said, the workers had combed every surface of Spencer’s home. Certain high-contact items were removed: bedding, soap from the shower, personal hygiene products and food. (The Ebola virus, Pain said, lives longer in cold environments like that of a refrigerator.)

Spencer’s fiancée, Morgan Dixon, returned to the apartment Saturday evening.

—Benjamin Mueller, The New York Times

Usage stalls for Twitter

SAN FRANCISCO — Dick Costolo, Twitter’s chief executive, has been sprucing up the social network this year. So far, however, the renovations don’t seem to be flashy enough to bring in many newcomers or persuade the veterans to return more frequently.

Wall Street has been disappointed by the slow pace of improvements, with investors sending Twitter’s stock down 11 percent Monday evening after the company reported meager growth in sign-ups and usage during the third quarter.

“The lack of growth there comes from Twitter’s relative lack of innovation,” said Nate Elliott, an analyst at Forrester who studies social media. “The experience on Twitter today is the same experience people have always had on Twitter.”

Costolo, too, said he wanted the company to innovate more quickly. “We have to continue to grow our monthly active users and make it increasingly a daily use case for them,” he said during a webcast with investors to discuss the financial results. “It’s more critical than ever to increase our overall pace of execution.”

In its financial report, Twitter said that 284 million people logged into its service at least once a month during the third quarter, up 4.8 percent from 271 million in the second quarter. But it attracted fewer new users during the three months than it did in the first or second quarters.

—Vindu Goel, The New York Times