Ebola Reaches NYC, Ctd

Noam Scheiber contends that NYC officials clearly lied when insisting “Dr. Spencer acted entirely appropriately and responsibly”:

Despite the fact that Dr. Spencer presented a miniscule risk to anyone around him when he decided to ride the subway, go bowling, and frolic at the High Line Park on Wednesday, he obviously should not have been out and about. His decision to do those things forced the city to shut down and extensively clean the bowling alley in question and dispatch its “medical detectives” all over the city to figure out whom he may have come into contact with. Spencer’s wanderings probably also put a crimp in all the retail establishments along his Wednesday route. And they have generally required the city to manage the suddenly tormented psyches of millions of New Yorkers. It doesn’t seem like asking a guy to hang out in his apartment for a few weeks would have been too much to ask in order to avoid this mess. (On top of which, it’s become our policy in this country to quarantine anyone who had direct contact with an Ebola patient, as Dr. Spencer did repeatedly. Why should someone be exempt from this rule just because the contact happened outside the country?)

So, as I say, we were some lies told last night.

But, he admits, “I kinda think Cuomo et al were right to lie”:

[P]ublicly calling out Dr. Spencer for his failure to self-quarantine could have turned into its own minor disaster. Cuomo, de Blasio, and Bassett were generally pretty effective: They correctly assured people that it’s very difficult to contract Ebola, that all the relevant protocols were followed once Dr. Spencer came forward with his symptoms, that the city had thoroughly war-gamed this scenario. Had they taken the additional step of criticizing Spencer for not isolating himself beforehand, you can imagine that dominating the headlines, drowning out most of what they said, and generally contributing to the very panic they were trying to defuse.

Sarah Kliff, on the other hand, defends Spencer:

Doctors Without Borders has a five-point procedure for doctors returning from West Africa, to monitor for signs of Ebola.


There is no evidence that Spencer failed to follow these guidelines. Nor is there evidence that requiring doctors to quarantine for three weeks, if they are non-symptomatic, would do anything to stop the disease’s spread. “It’s completely unnecessary,” says Harvard University’s Ashish Jha, who has been studying the outbreak. “I’m a believer in an abundance of caution but I’m not a believer of an abundance of idiocy.”

Tell that to Jason Koebler, who visited the same bowling ally as Spencer on Wednesday night:

I know how Ebola is spread. I’ve spent lots of time writing about it and researching it and on calls with the Centers for Disease Control and watching press conferences and interviewing doctors. I know I don’t have Ebola. And still, all I could think about was whether or not I had touched or even seen this guy—only part of it being morbid curiosity. Maybe that’s the power of this thing. I’m a (relatively) rational and highly informed person (on this issue), and still I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a little bit worried.

A reader lays into Spencer:

Why is it that some in the media and public health circles are calling Dr. Craig Spencer a “hero” and celebrating his “brave mission”?  MSF [Médecins Sans Frontières] is an amazing organization that does incredible work – but it doesn’t follow that everyone who volunteers for MSF workers is a hero. And we shouldn’t assume that doing good work is always driven by some deep self-less, altruistic, humanitarian motive. Being an MSF volunteer doesn’t make someone Mother Theresa.

Spencer is a physician, who after spending a month volunteering for MSF in Guinea treating Ebola patients then traipsed around New York City. He used public transportation after the outcry and panic at nurse Amber Vinson’s airline flights. (Vinson, by the way, had called the CDC to get permission for her flights.) He went out to a restaurant/bowling alley/dance floor after the very public backlash against ABC Medical Correspondent Nancy Snyderman for leaving the house and sitting in a car while her companion picked up some takeout. (Snyderman never treated any patients for Ebola.)

Maybe he justified this because he had always been careful when treating patients and knew he was not going to get Ebola. Maybe he justified it because he knew that he couldn’t transmit the virus until he was symptomatic. Maybe he thought no one would know. Whatever his justification was really doesn’t matter; at the end of the day, he simply didn’t think the rules applied to him, so he didn’t follow a 21-day quarantine. And he got Ebola.

The result of his hubris is going to be a public health crisis – not rampant Ebola infection, but already overcrowded emergency rooms and doctors offices overrun by nervous A-train commuters who have come down with a fever. A medical professional who incites a public health crisis isn’t a hero; he’s an arrogant narcissist. The kind of narcissist who posts a smug picture on Facebook wearing protective clothing to humble-brag his forthcoming humanitarian trip to West Africa masked as a plea to support MSF.

I hope he gets better, but I’m not going to celebrate his bravery or heroism.

Update from a reader:

The guy risked his life to volunteer for MSF. He willfully chose to expose himself to danger in order to ease the suffering of others. What’s happening now shows how real and serious the danger was. And as a doctor, he knew exactly what was he risking. If that doesn’t make him a hero, what would? We should all pray for him.

One word from a critic jumped out at me: frolic. He was frolicking on the High Line. Like, c’mon dude, try to butch it up a bit.

I ride around on the trains to read. It’s strange, but it’s what I do. I was on the A train on Wednesday night. I rode it to Lefferts Blvd, then back up to 207th st, and then down to 42nd street. So I spent a lot of time on the A train on Wednesday night. It’s a good train for reading, because it runs for a long time and it’s not too crowded.

I don’t think I’m going to get Ebola. Instead, I think: the odds of my getting Ebola are close to zero. But it would be truly awful to die because I wanted to read Robopocalypse. If I do die I hope my family will lie for me. “He just loved Joseph Roth, he talked about him all the time. And now he’s dead because that selfish doctor just had to go out frolicking.”