Ebola jitters for some, but not all, New Yorkers
Traveling into Manhattan by subway from Brooklyn on Friday, the day after a New York doctor was diagnosed with Ebola, Dennis Johnson and his fiancee, Lian Robinson, were trying to be sensible about the odds of the disease spreading.
Still, they found themselves discussing possible escape routes out of the city, just in case.
“I think we’d have to drive,” said Johnson, 42, noting that planes, trains and ferries were modes of transport he’d avoid. New York, he added, “is a big city. It’s a melting pot.”
Veronica Lopez had another way of describing the nation’s most populous city: “Like a giant cesspool.” The 21-year-old student was feeling especially jittery because she lives in a Harlem building next door to that of the patient, Dr. Craig Spencer, who’s now in isolation at Bellevue Hospital.
For the moment, Lopez was planning to decamp to Westchester. “I’m going home to my parents tomorrow,” she noted. “I’m sure we’re fine. But it’s right next door!”
New Yorkers are a hardy bunch, having weathered any number of calamities — terrorism, superstorms, killer flu scares. And indeed, there were plenty of signs that most people were sticking to their normal routines Friday, heeding Mayor Bill De Blasio’s assurance that there was no reason to be alarmed. The fire department reported no increase in 911 calls. On the number 1 subway line going down the West Side during morning rush hour, cars were packed as usual; that line was one Spencer had used in recent days.
“I’m not that worried about it,” said grad student Eric Pedersen, 33, passing through Penn Station, one of the most crowded places in the city. “It’s only one confirmed case. I’m certainly not completely hysterical — that makes little sense.”
And yet, in a place where space of any kind is at a premium and where a day is a series of countless physical interactions — from the newsstand to the morning coffee guy to the packed evening commute — it seemed hard for many not to feel a tad uneasy.
On the L train — another line Spencer had ridden — a group of schoolgirls in uniform passed around a bottle of hand sanitizer. Construction worker T.J. DeMaso, 41, said he was concerned. “If the outbreaks get any more common, I’ll be moving out of the city,” he said. “You could catch it and not even know it. You could bring it home to your kids. That’s not a chance I want to take.”
Others were more relaxed. Evangeline Love was riding the train to her job with the city Human Resources Administration. “I saw the mayor and the governor,” she said. “There’s no need for hysteria. I’m here.”
Also there: school social worker Alicia Clavell, 55, reading a newspaper story about the Ebola case. “I feel they have it under control,” she said. “I’m just hoping this is an isolated incident.”
On the elevated High Line on the far West Side — also a place Spencer reported visiting, along with a Brooklyn bowling alley — Dean BeLer, a 68-year-old tourist from Williamsburg, Virginia, was taking in the view. He said New York appeared to have done a good job of handling things, “compared to the fiasco in Dallas.”
Jen Paul, 43, was taking photos. “I’m not particularly afraid,” she said. “I don’t generally handle other people’s body fluids. It would be a shame if the bowling alley and other businesses were to suffer because of needless fears.”
Back at Spencer’s Harlem building, Tanya Thomas, who lives on the fourth floor, said she’d felt proud to hear that a doctor from Doctors Without Borders was living there, and was more concerned for him than for herself.
“If I get it, I get it,” said the 47-year-old office assistant.
But for Stan Malone, 45, who lives across the street, things were bad enough to make him — and three family members who live in Spencer’s building — pack up for a hotel, where they stayed Thursday night.
“I don’t think this is gonna be the last case,” said Malone, who said he was on his way to buy a protective mask. “To be honest, I don’t even want to talk to people.”
Outside Bellevue on Friday, Suraya Yesmin felt similar fears. “Where is the man with Ebola?” asked Yesmin, of Ozone Park, Queens. She’d brought her 10-year-old daughter to see a dentist at the hospital, but ended up leaving.
“It’s because of the virus,” she said. “We’re scared.”
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