Ebola Can’t Conquer NYC as Subway Passengers Ride Doctor’s Route

Passengers wait for an arriving No. 1 train in a subway station in New York, on Monday, July 23, 2007

Photograph by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News.

Waiting to take the A train in New York’s West Village, Sam Purdy said he was well aware that the subway line was used by a doctor who became the first in the city to test positive for Ebola.

Upon boarding the line made famous by Duke Ellington, the 26-year-old middle-school teacher, as usual, grabbed onto one of the car’s metal poles.

“There’s more of a risk of falling down and twisting your ankle by not holding the railing,” he said on the uptown train. “I’m not worried. I know the likelihood of catching it.”

Physician Craig Spencer, 33, tested positive for Ebola yesterday after returning from aid work in West Africa and is being treated in an isolation unit at Bellevue Hospital Center. Authorities are tracking his movements as they reassure the public that the risk of contracting the disease is minimal.

Spencer traveled on the A, 1 and L subway lines since he’s been back in New York, officials said. On Oct. 22, he went to The Gutter, a bowling alley in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York City Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said.

Heading toward the L train in Williamsburg, Sam Combs, a manager at the restaurant Pies ’n’ Thighs, said that while he personally isn’t concerned about the virus, he’s worried that the new case is going to cause unwarranted hysteria in the city of 8.4 million people.

Showing Resilience

“I’m more concerned about the way people in New York City are going to react more than the Ebola virus itself,” he said in an interview near the Bedford Avenue L stop.

New Yorkers have demonstrated their resilience. The most populous U.S. city rebounded from the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil on Sept. 11, 2001, when al-Qaeda terrorists flew two hijacked airplanes into the World Trade Center towers, killing almost 3,000 people and paralyzing the metropolitan region for days. Eleven years later, Hurricane Sandy killed 43 people, flooded seven subway tunnels, shut the Financial District and blacked out entire neighborhoods. The stock market opened two days later.

Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio were among officials who spoke out yesterday, seeking to lessen fears by providing information about the virus, which spreads through direct contact with a victim’s bodily fluids. Patients are most infectious at late stages, when large quantities of the virus are in the body.

No Fluids

“There is no indication the patient was contagious when he rode the subway,” according to a statement today from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the state agency that runs the system. “There is no indication he emitted any bodily fluids on the subway. There were no reports of bodily fluids on any of the subway lines he rode.”

New York commuters including Richard Costanzo, 67, and Dominique McGowan, 23, are heeding the city’s calls for calm. While waiting for the A train at the 14th street station, they said that the fact that Ebola is transmitted via bodily fluids and direct contact makes it unlikely for them to alter their daily routines.

Subway ridership is at a record-high levels. More than 6 million passengers rode the trains in the five boroughs on Tuesday, Sept. 23, the biggest daily tally since record-keeping began in 1985, transit officials said this week.

This morning, passenger levels were “exactly normal,” Cuomo said on MSNBC.

“I don’t want to exaggerate one occurrence into implying that I can get Ebola from taking the subway,” said McGowan, who works in marketing. “In this city, taking the train to get somewhere is a necessity.”

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