Authorities retraced the steps of an American doctor with Ebola, who was listed Friday in stable condition at a New York hospital’s isolation unit, while seeking to reassure a jittery public that the threat from the virus was limited.
Dr. Craig Spencer, 33, who was infected after working with Ebola patients in West Africa, on Thursday became the fourth person diagnosed with the disease in the United States and the first in its largest city.
Spencer was awake and talking to family and friends on a cellphone, Dr. Mary Travis Bassett, New York’s health commissioner, said at a news conference.
Meanwhile, Nina Pham, one of two nurses from a Dallas hospital infected with Ebola after treating the first patient diagnosed with the disease in the United States, was declared virus-free. She walked out smiling and unassisted from the Maryland hospital where she had been treated.
The White House said President Barack Obama will meet with Pham in the Oval Office later in the day.
An Atlanta hospital and federal health officials also confirmed that the other nurse, Amber Vinson, no longer had detectable levels of virus but did not set a date for her to leave that facility.
Spencer was quarantined at Bellevue Hospital six days after returning from Guinea, unnerving financial markets amid concern the virus may spread in the city. The three previous cases diagnosed in the United States were in Dallas.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said health officials are retracing all the steps taken Spencer, but urged New Yorkers not to worry and to stick with their daily routines.
Three people who had close contact with Spencer, a physician who volunteered for the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders, were quarantined for observation. The doctor’s fiancée was among them and isolated at the same hospital, and all three were still healthy, officials said.
U.S. stock markets shook off Ebola fears on Friday, with the S&P 500 rising 0.5 percent to 1,959.71 in afternoon trading. [.N] Wall Street fell late Thursday after the New York City case was confirmed. U.S. Treasury bonds, which earlier rallied on safe-haven bets, were little changed.
“I think the fears are a bit overdone, said Caroline Vincent, European equities fund manager at Cavendish Asset Management. “In previous cases, such as avian flu, the virus ended up being contained quite quickly.”
The worst Ebola outbreak on record has killed at least 4,877 people and perhaps as many as 15,000, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Officials sought to reassure New Yorkers they were safe, even though Spencer had ridden subways, taken a cab and visited a bowling alley between his return from Guinea and the onset of symptoms.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said that unlike in Dallas, where the two hospital nurses treating Duncan contracted the disease, New York officials had time to thoroughly prepare and drill for the possibility of a case emerging in the city.
“From a public health point of view, I feel confident that we’re doing everything that we should be doing, and we have the situation under control,” he said.
Health officials emphasized that the virus is not airborne but is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected person who is showing symptoms.
Obama’s response to Ebola ran into fresh criticism from Republicans in Congress during a hearing on Friday.
CRITICISM ON CAPITOL HILL
Republican Representative Darrell Issa of California, who chairs the House of Representatives Oversight Committee, blasted what he described as a “bumbling” administration response, characterized by missteps and ill-considered procedures to protect U.S. healthcare workers at home and troops in West Africa.
Republicans have made criticism of Obama’s Ebola response part of their campaign to win full control of Congress in next month’s elections.
Spencer’s case brings to nine the total number of people treated for Ebola in U.S. hospitals since August, but just two, Duncan’s nurses, contracted the virus in the United States. Duncan died on Oct. 8 at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, where Pham and Vinson were infected.
Dr. Mary Travis Bassett, New York’s health commissioner, said Spencer was in stable condition and that federal health officials had confirmed his diagnosis.
Pham, who was transferred to the U.S. National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, from the Dallas hospital on Oct. 16, appeared at a news briefing and thanked her doctors.
“It may be a while before I have my strength back,” she said.
“She has no virus in her. She feels well. She looks extraordinarily well,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
After taking his own temperature twice a day since his return, Spencer reported running a fever and experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms for the first time early on Thursday.
He was then taken from his Manhattan apartment to Bellevue by a special team wearing protective gear, city officials said.
Cuomo said Spencer checked into the hospital when he realized he had a temperature of 100.3 degrees Fahrenheit, suggesting he may have caught the onset of symptoms early. Some reports had put Spencer’s temperature at 103 degrees, but that turned out not to have been the case.
The driver of the taxi Spencer took was not considered to be at risk, and officials insisted the three subway lines he rode before falling ill remained safe. The bowling alley has been cleared by local health officials to reopen.
As New Yorkers headed to work on Friday, some were unfazed by the news, while others said it added to their anxieties about the perils of living in a crowded city.
Mollie Kirk, a 29-year-old laboratory worker who lives in Manhattan’s Harlem neighborhood, walked past a newspaper stand with “Ebola” splashed in large letters across the front pages as she headed toward a downtown subway.
“I’m much more afraid of this year’s flu; it kills much more people,” she said. “People just mis-evaluate probability and risk because the outcome is horrible. You see the pictures in Africa.”
Raschell Martinez, a 27-year-old social worker who lives in the Bronx, said she was “very fearful” after emerging from the subway in Harlem, following what she described as an anguished ride.
“Every time I go in the subway I try not to touch any poles,” she said. “People are getting it anyways. And especially the ones who are caring for those with the illness, the nurses, doctors … despite wearing all this protective gear.”
The city health commissioner said Spencer completed work in Guinea on Oct. 12 and arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on Oct. 17.
Spencer is due to marry his fiancée, Morgan Dixon, in Detroit on Sept. 5, 2015, according to their online wedding announcement. The couple met in China, where both studied at Henan University, according to their online resumés.
“Craig’s friends say he’s a goofball, incredible, gifted in both art, music and science, and a go-getter,” the announcement says.
Spencer has specialized in international emergency medicine at Columbia University-New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City since 2011. Columbia said in a statement he had not been to work nor seen any patients since his return.
(Additional reporting by Edward McAllister, Sebastien Malo, Frank McGurty, Barbara Goldberg, Luc Cohen, Robert Gibbons, Natasja Sheriff, Jonathan Allen and Laila Kearney in New York, and Bill Trott, David Morgan and Toni Clarke in Washington; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Bernadette Baum)