Gov. Andrew Cuomo Planned to Ride Subway; New Yorkers Express Anxiety or Nonchalance

Physician Craig Spencer is the fourth patient to be diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S., this time in New York City. WSJ’s Melanie West reports. Photo: AP

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo planned to ride the New York City subway on Friday to demonstrate its safety, after health officials disclosed that a doctor had taken the subway before becoming ill with Ebola.

The governor said he planned to ride the A, L or 1 lines, all of which were used by Craig Spencer, a 33-year-old physician, after his return to New York from Guinea, where he had been working with Doctors Without Borders. He developed a fever Thursday morning and was transported to Bellevue Hospital Center, where he tested positive for Ebola.

In a flurry of appearances on morning news shows on Friday, the governor sought to calm New Yorkers’ fears that Mr. Spencer could have spread the disease as he moved around the city Wednesday, riding the subway, eating in a Manhattan restaurant and bowling in Brooklyn.

“I understand the fear that comes now from that word, Ebola, and it is scary—there’s no doubt about that,” Mr. Cuomo said on CNN. “But a little dose of reality also: This is not transmitted like the flu is transmitted or a common cold or a common virus.”

Health officials have stressed that Ebola patients don’t become contagious until they start to show symptoms, such as a fever, and that the virus can be passed only through contact with bodily fluids such as blood, vomit and diarrhea.

“We have to separate sometimes, Alisyn, the fear from the reality,” Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, told one of the program’s anchors. “Or the irrational fear from, if you will, the reality. We have a dose of irrational fear. Now, as New Yorkers a little anxiety can keep you safe, right? And it’s not a bad thing. But undue anxiety is unproductive and there’s no reason for undue anxiety in this situation.”

Mr. Cuomo, on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” said New York City subway ridership Friday morning was “exactly normal.”

On the A train Friday, riders on their morning commute into Manhattan expressed a mix of nonchalance and anxiety.

James Murphy, 42-year-old Park Slope resident, heard the news of New York’s first Ebola case from another passenger.

“I felt better when Ebola was distant,” he said. “I know it sounds terrible, but when it was still in New Jersey or Texas or wherever, I felt better.”

A woman in a mask arrives at the front entrance to Bellevue Hospital Friday, the morning after it was confirmed that Craig Spencer, a member of Doctors Without Borders, tested positive for Ebola
A woman in a mask arrives at the front entrance to Bellevue Hospital Friday, the morning after it was confirmed that Craig Spencer, a member of Doctors Without Borders, tested positive for Ebola AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Mr. Murphy, a creative director in digital advertising, said that he would take extra precautions at the end of the day.

“I have two kids,” he said. “I have to wash my hands. When I get home, maybe I’ll wash this jacket that I’m wearing.”

Carol Richards, a 50-year-old Coney Island resident, said that—while concerned—she wouldn’t change her routine.

“I’m aware of how you can catch it,” she said. “But you’ve got to live.”

On Wednesday night, before he developed a fever, Dr. Spencer rode three different subway lines, going bowling at a Brooklyn alley called the Gutter and summoning a cab through the e-hailing app, Uber, city officials said. That day he went for a three-mile run, walked through the High Line park and ate at a Manhattan restaurant called the Meatball Shop, they said.

The Gutter was closed Thursday as a precaution. In a post on its Facebook page Friday, the company said it was working with city health department officials “to have the bar cleaned and sanitized under their supervision and expect to be open sometime today after that is completed. Doctors advising the health department have told us that our staff and customers were at no risk.”

A Meatball Shop spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Speaking on the “Today” show, Mr. Cuomo said that when Dr. Spencer rode the subway, he “obviously felt he wasn’t symptomatic. He knew that was the only time it was contagious. As soon as he had a fever, he presented himself to the hospital.…All the procedures thereon were exactly according to the book.”

Dr. Spencer is an emergency department physician at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. Officials said he hadn’t seen any patients since his return from Guinea.