Skip to main content

New York's Ebola Test: If We Can Contain It There...

Ebola has arrived in the Big Apple, and New Yorkers are hoping that only the news starts spreading.

As Ebola and Sudden Jihad Syndrome fight it out to scare the shit out of the American people today, there's reason to find comfort in the news that a New York man has been diagnosed with Ebola, and is currently in isolation undergoing treatment.

As Chez Pazienza points out, the arrival of Ebola in New York City provides all of the ingredients for an Ebola panic. New Yorkers insist on using a straw to drink out of another straw, so it's going to be interesting to see how they react to the news that Dr. Craig Spencer took three subways to a bowling alley in Brooklyn and an Uber car home the night before he checked into the hospital. At a press conference Thursday evening, health officials were still reporting that Spencer called for help when he tested with a temperature of 103 degrees, and after experiencing fatigue for several days. While risk of Ebola transmission is very low in the early stages, that risk increases the further the disease progresses.

All of this has led CNN to make "Would you ride the subway?" its Question of the Day for every Ebola-related guest, as with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo this morning. Cuomo did his best to be reassuring, most notably by revising that initial report of a 103 degree fever, and promised to ride all three subways. Alysin Camerota did her best to undo that with her questions:

"The more ill the person is, the more contagious the person is. but the person has to be symptomatic. The doctor presented himself when he had a 100.3 fever, not a 103 fever as it has been reported."

"It's a mixed message, Alisyn, because on the one hand you want to err on the side of caution, and you want to make sure that you're doing everything that you can do, right? On the other hand, what the data shows is, it's not that easily transmitted."

It sucks that poor Andrew Cuomo is going to have to spend his day riding subways, which is itself an absurd demonstration. Ebola doesn't hang in the air like a Silent But Deadly. But the initial misreporting of Spencer's symptoms could actually end up working to the public's advantage by creating an expectation of a rogue transmission.

Cuomo is essentially correct, as far as we know, Ebola is very hard to transmit, especially in the early stages, but there is also a very low risk of aerosolized (not airborne)  transmission within three feet. Couple those two extremely low-risk factors together, and you've got nothing to worry about. No one from Amber Vinson's plane has gotten sick, and if, as seems likely, there are no transmissions of Ebola from Dr. Spencer, then maybe people will start believing that this disease is as containable as public health officials say it is.

Missteps in the initial response to Ebola in the U.S. has led to legitimate shaking of public confidence, but as Cuomo states, everything we know about this disease tells us there's nothing to worry about in the U.S. A successful containment in New York, sardine can of the world, could do wonders to restore it, and to chill the illegitimate hysteria that's cropped up around it.