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Hamilton Heights Neighbors Shaken After Doctor's Positive Test For Ebola

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Residents of a building on 147th Street in Hamilton Heights were trying to remain calm Thursday night, after their neighbor tested positive for the Ebola virus.

Dr. Craig Spencer was taken to Bellevue Hospital Thursday from his building on West 147th Street near Broadway, after suffering from a fever and gastrointestinal distress. He had come back from the West African country of Guinea last week after a tour with Doctors Without Borders.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday night that tests on Spencer for the Ebola virus had come back positive.

In the wake of the news, residents of Spencer's building were trying to remain calm.

"I haven't had direct contact with him," one woman said. "I've seen him, but I haven't touched him."

But the woman, who lives three floors below Spencer, was still worried about what might be next for Spencer and her neighbors.

"It's hard to think that maybe they would have to decontaminate the building, like whoever he came in contact with, and then you think about everyone we came in contact with," said Joshua Renick.

On Thursday afternoon, police walked around the neighborhood in masks. They took the apartment building doors off the hinges as they rushed to get EMS workers up to Spencer's apartment.

Door From Dr. Craig Spencer's Building
Officials removed the door from Dr. Spencer's building after arriving on scene. (credit: Lou Young/CBS 2)

It was a chaotic scene that raised resident concerns about why Dr. Spencer wasn't quarantined sooner.

"Here's a doctor who's gone to West Africa -- who's done incredible work to help people -- and he's come back into the country and nothing has been done to say, 'Let's put you aside for 21 days to make sure you don't have the virus,'" Renick said.

Now comes the crucial task of figuring out who Dr. Spencer has come in contact with, and where he has been in the week since returning to New York City.

"On Wednesday before he became sick, he went to the High Line and may have stopped at a restaurant," city Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Travis Bassett said. "He then went to The Gutter bowling alley in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and took an Uber car to get there and back."

His only symptom before Thursday was fatigue, which he began experiencing on Tuesday, Bassett said.

On Thursday night, The Gutter was closed as a precaution. Bowling and a scheduled CMJ music show had been canceled.

Organizers Goodnight Records sent out a tweet saying the show was cancelled because of "unforeseen circumstances.

City health officials stressed that "Dr. Spencer would not have been contagious until he developed symptoms" which he first saw this morning and (tear out) "Ebola is only transmitted by close contact with bodily fluids of an infected person."

CBS 2's Dr. Max Gomez also emphasized that there is no reason for average New Yorkers to worry.

"I would say unless someone literally spills blood or nasty bodily fluids on you and is already symptomatic, you're not going to get Ebola. It's not airborne," Gomez said. "Everybody needs to calm down."

Earlier in the day, City Councilman Mark Levine (D-7th) came to Spencer's block to calm residents. City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene also came to the scene and handed neighbors the information cards about Ebola.

"I want the public to understand that we're treating this with great caution, and that city, state and federal officials have responded with the highest of urgency, and are marshaling all the resources they have at their disposal," Levine said.

"I'm in health care, so I understand the ways that it's transmitted, so I'm not, like, freaking out," building resident Miha Kim told WCBS 880's Peter Haskell. "But it's just crazy that it's in my building."

As 1010 WINS' Al Jones reported, Brooke Christensen was handed one of the white and blue fact cards titled "what is Ebola" as she returned from work Thursday afternoon.

"It's a fluid disease. Hopefully, they'll take care of it," but I'm not concerned."

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