Pic via The New York City Mayor’s Office
There’s really no way you could have missed today’s biggest news: a doctor who had been treating Ebola patients in Guinea was diagnosed with the virus after returning to his home in Manhattan.
After the news broke, a flurry of official responses were issued by every entity from the hospital where Doctor Craig Spencer worked to the bowling alley he visited on Wednesday night before he came down with symptoms.
This is a very serious matter despite the many jokes that filled our Twitter feed last night and this morning. But reviewing all these disparate statements (some formal, some anything but) makes for an excellent case study in uncoordinated responses to a major crisis.
First, the official statements. From the city of New York itself via Mayor Bill de Blasio:
Today, a patient at Bellevue Hospital tested positive for Ebola. But let me be clear: there is no reason for New Yorkers to be alarmed.
— Bill de Blasio (@BilldeBlasio) October 24, 2014
From the mayor’s office:
The doctors at Bellevue Hospital have been preparing for a potential Ebola case for months. They were ready to receive yesterday’s patient.
— NYC Mayor’s Office (@NYCMayorsOffice) October 24, 2014
From Governor Andrew Cuomo:
“In the past few weeks we have been preparing for just this circumstance. We’ve had a full coordinated effort working night and day.” #Ebola
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) October 24, 2014
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene:
The patient was transported to Bellevue by a specially trained HAZ TAC unit wearing Personal Protective Equipment: http://t.co/hHQq8u1hRf
— nycHealthy (@nycHealthy) October 23, 2014
The Department’s Commissioner:
This is an evolving situation that we are well prepared to handle. The health of all NYers remains our top priority. pic.twitter.com/Erv3KV4s9n
— Dr. Mary Bassett (@DrMaryTBassett) October 24, 2014
Unnamed “health officials”:
Health officials say now that the 103-degree fever of the Ebola patient was wrong, he had a 100.3-degree fever. http://t.co/t7iQcmkAg9
— NYT Metro Desk (@NYTMetro) October 24, 2014
The Department of Health and Human Services via Yahoo:
“Ebola is a dangerous disease, but there is hardly a reason for panic,” Dr. Nicole Lurie, assistant HHS secretary for preparedness and response, said in prepared testimony. “There is an epidemic of fear, but not of Ebola, in the United States.”
3 members of CDC’s Ebola Response Team will arrive in New York City tonight; CDC Ebola experts already in NYC to offer immediate support.
— CDC (@CDCgov) October 24, 2014
The White House:
While this one is not technically a communication from President Obama, it’s still worth noting that he officially “recognizes” the city’s preparations. The proof is in the photo:
— Bill de Blasio (@BilldeBlasio) October 24, 2014
Doctors Without Borders, the organization Spencer represented in Guinea:
“As soon as he developed a fever, the MSF staff member was immediately isolated and referred to Bellevue Hospital. As long as a patient hasn’t developed symptoms, the risk of contagion is close to zero. Ebola is not an airborne virus like the flu. It is only transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids, such as blood or vomit.The circumstances under which the staff member contracted Ebola have not yet been determined. A thorough investigation is underway by MSF, under standard management procedures for such events.”
New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, the hospital where he worked:
“He is a committed and responsible physician who always puts his patients first. He has not been to work at our hospital and has not seen any patients at our hospital since his return from overseas.”
Dr. Irwin Redlener, the director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University:
“New York has mobilized not only a world-class health department, but has full engagement of many other agencies that need to be on the response team.”
And now things start to get a little crazy.
Uber, whose service he used to travel back to his home in Manhattan on Wednesday night:
— Uber NYC (@Uber_NYC) October 24, 2014
CNN, which somehow found a way to gather an entire panel of “Ebola experts”:
There are more experts on CNN right now talking about Ebola in America than people with ebola in America. pic.twitter.com/lRNMDzZMjr
— Nick Bilton (@nickbilton) October 24, 2014
Whoever this New York Daily News source was:
— George Pearkes (@georgepearkes) October 24, 2014
The Gutter, the Brooklyn bowling alley he visited on Wednesday, which cancelled the concerts scheduled for Thursday night:
“To all our customers, we sincerely apologize for any inconvenience…Closing today was simply a precautionary measure.
We are working with the NYC Health Department 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.”
(and a picture of press gathering outside this morning):
Several news crews outside The Gutter in Williamsburg pic.twitter.com/DSGPxHqoUS
— Michael Calderone (@mlcalderone) October 24, 2014
Brooklyn Bowl, the business he did not visit on Wednesday:
As confirmed by New York City’s health commissioner, Dr. Spencer visited another bowling alley and not Brooklyn Bowl.
— brooklynbowl (@brooklynbowl) October 24, 2014
Questlove of The Roots (yes, really):
— Questlove Gomez (@questlove) October 24, 2014
A few conspicuously absent groups: the World Health Organization, the MTA, whose subways the doctor rode, and the NYPD. The latter is especially relevant after this picture went live:
— Daily Mail US (@DailyMail) October 24, 2014
We’re sure we missed a few, but the point is that the messaging remains chaotic. Communicating in such a real-time crisis situation is a tough job…even for Burson-Marsteller.