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Dr. Craig Spencer, NYC Ebola Patient, Released From Bellevue Hospital

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- An emergency room doctor who was the first Ebola patient in New York City has been released from the hospital after beating the virus.

Declaring "New York City is Ebola free," Mayor Bill de Blasio hugged Dr. Craig Spencer after he walked out of Bellevue Hospital Tuesday as medical team members cheered and applauded.

"It is a good feeling to hug a hero and we have a hero here in our midst," de Blasio said. "Someone who served others no matter how much danger and he has been an inspiration throughout the challenges he's faced."

WATCH: Spencer Speaks After Being Released From Hospital | PHOTOS: Spencer Leaves Bellevue

The 33-year-old physician was released 19 days after he was diagnosed with the virus. He said he's a living example for how medical protocols can work to stop disease from spreading.

"Today I am healthy and no longer infectious," Spencer said. "My early detection, reporting and now recovery from Ebola speaks to the effectiveness of the protocols that are in place for health staff returning from West Africa."

NYC Ebola Patient Leaves Bellevue Hospital

Doctors said a combination of antiviral and experimental treatments along with blood transfusions from Ebola survivor Nancy Writebol ultimately saved him along with Bellevue's staff who were specially trained to treat the disease, CBS2's Janelle Burrell reported.

"This day is possible because of the compassion, the dedication and the great skills of this Bellevue team" said Dr. Ram Raju, president of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation.

Spencer also thanked the medical staff for the "tremendous care and support they provided to me to survive."

Spencer was diagnosed Oct. 23, days after returning from treating patients in Guinea with Doctors Without Borders. He was treated in an isolation unit and officials said Spencer actively participated in his own care.

His condition was upgraded from serious to stable last week and he felt well enough to request an exercise bike and a banjo.

Spencer's Hamilton Heights apartment was also decontaminated. Many neighbors welcomed him home Tuesday morning.

"We should focus on him being healthy and not be worried about walking around New York City because it's not something that we can catch," neighbor Jennifer Hade told CBS2's Dave Carlin.

"It's good he is coming home," another man said. "He doesn't have Ebola now."

"He's a hero!" said neighbor Raymond Ingersoll.

Police set up barriers in front of an apartment building on West 147 Street where Spencer's fiancee Morgan Dixon remains quarantined until Friday. Two friends who initially were quarantined are being monitored.

Health officials have stressed that Ebola is not airborne and can only be spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person who is showing symptoms.

NYC Ebola Patient Leaves Bellevue Hospital

Still, news of Spencer's infection set many New Yorkers on edge, particularly after they learned that he rode the subway, dined in a restaurant and visited a bowling alley in Brooklyn in the days before he developed a fever and tested positive.

City officials tried to assure the public by going to the places Spencer visited to show it was safe. De Blasio also urged residents not to be alarmed by Spencer's Ebola diagnosis, saying that those not exposed were not at risk.

After being released Tuesday, Spencer skipped public transportation and took a car back to his apartment, WCBS 880's Marla Diamond reported.

After Spencer's diagnosis, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie responded by announcing a mandatory 21-day quarantine for travelers who have come in close contact with Ebola patients.

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa has killed thousands of people. Spencer, an attending physician at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, has traveled around the world to care for the needy.

"While my case has garnered international attention, my infection represents but a fraction of the more than 13,000 reported cases to date in West Africa, the center of the outbreak, where families are being torn apart and communities destroyed,'' he said.

During his time in Guinea, he said, he cried as he held children not strong enough to survive the virus and was overjoyed when patients he treated were cured.

"Dr. Spencer showed us what it means to help your fellow human,'' de Blasio said.

Spencer said while hospitalized, he began taking calls from friends, family and even former West African patients, 1010 WINS' Juliet Papa reported.

"Many of these same patients called by personal cell phone from Guinea to wish me well and ask if there was any way they could contribute to my care," he said.

With Spencer's recovery, there are no Ebola patients currently under treatment in the United States. Officials continue to monitor nearly 300 people, including hospital workers and recent travelers from West Africa.

Only a handful of Ebola patients have been treated in the U.S.

Besides Spencer, they include American health and aid workers and a journalist who fell ill in West Africa, a Liberian man diagnosed with the virus during a visit to Texas and two nurses who contracted it from him. The man, Thomas Eric Duncan, died; the rest have recovered.

A nurse who fought quarantines in New Jersey and Maine upon her return from Sierra Leone is now freed from daily monitoring. Monday marked the 21st day since Kaci Hickox's last exposure to an Ebola patient.

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(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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