Of course Ebola has landed in New York City—everything major does, sooner rather than later. Frankly, I’m wondering why it took so long.
Dr. Craig Spencer, freshly back from Guinea, seems to have done everything correctly once the first symptom appeared. His fever shot to 103, and he behaved just like the med-school textbook said he should.
The Doctors Without Borders physician knew he’d been in the West Africa Ebola zone. He was taking his vitals twice daily. He called for an ambulance right away. He rode straight to Bellevue, a miraculous public hospital where the exotic becomes routine every day. He was sent to isolation as a ready-to-roll public-health army fanned across the city in search of anyone who’d be in contact with him in recent days.
Take that, private-sector medicine! This is how scary epidemics are suffocated—public-health doctors and public-health agencies protecting public health!
If everyone behaved like Spencer, the politicians could all stop yelling about travel bans. If the rest of the country responded like New York, cable news could immediately return to 24-7 coverage of the midterm elections.
Craig Spencer had taken the subway to Brooklyn on Wednesday night. He’d gone bowling with friends in Williamsburg. He took an Uber car back home to his apartment building in Harlem and climbed into bed. By late Thursday morning, he was in top medical hands.
And how is New York reacting to all of this?
His Harlem neighbors aren’t moving out in panic. The Bellevue staff seems to be following all suggested protocols, even as other health-care workers are being briefed at the Javits convention center. Taxis aren’t returning to their garages. The MTA isn’t stopping the trains.
That last one isn’t even thinkable. Those subway lines are the vital circulatory system for Manhattan’s skyscrapers. Lose the trains, even briefly, the city begins to wither and die.
It sounds counter-intuitive, I know. A place where people live incredibly close together is the one that’s best equipped to withstand a highly contagious disease. But it’s true. This is what New York is good at.
We understand the nuances of up-close-and-personal. We know how to give each other appropriate amounts of space, even in close confines. And we don’t panic—or at least most of don’t.
“We want to state at the outset there is no reason for New Yorkers to be alarmed,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said calmly last night, and just about everyone seemed to believe him. After crack, AIDS, and 9/11, what other choice do we have?
Ellis Henican is a New York writer and TV talking head. His next book is How to Catch a Russian Spy (Scribner).