New York Ebola Doc Thinks the City Overreacted

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Photo: Courtesy of Craig Spencer

The man at the center of the Ebola case that spread fear throughout hipster New York gave his first post-recovery interview to WNYC this week, and had plenty of real talk for both average New Yorkers and local politicians. Dr. Craig Spencer, who came down with the deadly virus in October after volunteering in Guinea, also delivered one reassuring message: “Having seen what I had seen and having done what I had done, having been where I had been, at no point would I have put — not just my personal safety — but the safety of my loved ones and my community at risk.”

Spencer famously had an action-packed few days before coming down with symptoms: He’d gone jogging, taken three different train lines and an Uber, and had gone bowling in Williamsburg and eaten at a Meatball Shop in Manhattan. After his diagnosis, people worried about contracting Ebola through casual contact on the subway, but Spencer said he was the one who was paranoid about using antibacterial gel and coming into contact with dirty poles, because a flu-related fever would still force him to go through the security chain for potential Ebola exposures.

At the same time, local politicians used his illness as “a convenient chance to appear presidential,” Spencer said, and made decisions based on popular appeal rather than actual science. “I’m very afraid that what we did in this situation is set a precedent that allowed politicians to make public health policies when they were not qualified to do so,” he said.

The doctor also suggested that fears about returning health workers may have further complicated the real epidemic raging in West Africa. “What happened in the aftermath of the quarantine is that a lot of people who had committed to going to the response in West Africa pulled out,” Spencer said. “Again, not because they were fearful of what they would do there, but how they would be treated on their return back home.”