NYC Ebola case biggest test yet for Obama, CDC

 

A case of Ebola in the nation’s largest city is becoming the government’s biggest test yet to convince a worried public that the deadly disease can be stopped in the United States.

At a late-night press conference on Thursday, a panel of city, state and federal health officials sought to assuage concerns that 33-year-old Craig Spencer could have infected others as he moved around the city of 8.4 million.

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"We feel good about the way we're handling the situation," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.
"I feel confident that we're doing everything that we should be doing and we have the situation under control."

The latest diagnosis could give the government a chance to rebound from the way it handled the country’s Ebola diagnosis, reported a month ago in Dallas.

That case, in which the patient eventually died, involved a series of missteps by local and federal health officials, morphing it into a full-blown political crisis for the White House.

President Obama called both Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio on Thursday night, offering any support necessary to keep the patient and the healthcare workers caring for him safe. He also praised the city and state for its "extensive preparations," according to the White House.

“We are as ready as one could be for this circumstance. What happened in Dallas was actually the exact opposite,” Cuomo said, sitting between De Blasio and State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker.

State and city officials both stressed that they were working in tandem with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which had a lesser presence in Dallas, when the first diagnosis was reported.  

Dr. Tom Frieden, the CDC director who has spearheaded the country’s medical response to Ebola, said the hospital where Spencer was diagnosed is fully prepared.

“In fact, by coincidence, or because of good preparations, we already had a team on the ground that had been reviewing Bellevue's preparations even before the patient became ill,” Frieden said.

Cuomo acknowledged that Ebola “can spread fear just by the sound of the word.” But he said multiple times that the disease could not be easily transmitted and that it posed very little risk to New Yorkers.

The city’s health commissioner, Dr. Mary Bassett, said Spencer had been “self-isolating” himself since he returned, before he was diagnosed with Ebola on Monday. He had direct contract with only three people, none of whom have presented symptoms.

Though Spencer had traveled on several subway trains, Bassett said the risk levels were “close to nil.”

Zucker added, “I would get on the subway tomorrow.”

The federal government has worked hard to reverse its track record on Ebola within U.S. borders. The Obama administration has added new restrictions for travelers from the affected areas, rerouting their flights into one of five airports and then mandating three-week active monitoring after they arrive.

Bending to political pressure, Obama also tapped Ron Klain as “Ebola czar” to direct the government’s response to the disease. Klain has already been in contact with New York officials and representatives.  

Despite the new steps from the White House, the newest Ebola case is likely to reignite a firestorm of criticism during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Friday.

The hearing, which has been planned for two weeks, will evaluate the country's domestic response to Ebola.

Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerNunes: West Wing 'had no idea I was there' Overnight Cybersecurity: New questions for House Intel chair over WH visit | Cyber war debate heats up | Firm finds security flaws in 'panic buttons' Schumer: Ryan should replace Nunes on Intel chair MORE (D-N.Y.) released a statement late Thursday saying he spoke with Klain as well as Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell.

“They have assured me that all federal resources will be available to New York in any way. I will be monitoring the situation very closely.”