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MTA Says Subway System Is Safe To Ride After Some Raise Concerns About Ebola

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is assuring customers that the subway system is safe to ride after some straphangers became concerned after hearing that New York City's first Ebola patient rode the subway several times before testing positive for the disease.

Dr. Craig Spencer returned from Guinea last Friday after a tour with Doctors Without Borders. He reported Thursday morning coming down with a 100.3-degree fever and diarrhea. He is now being treated in an isolation ward at Bellevue Hospital, a designated Ebola center.

In the days before Spencer fell ill, he went on a 3-mile jog, went to the High Line where he stopped at a coffee shop, ate at The Meatball shop on Greenwich Avenue, rode the A, 1 and L trains and, on Wednesday night, took an Uber car to and from a bowling alley in Williamsburg, according to a rough timeline provided by city officials.

Some Straphangers Concerned About NYC's First Ebola Patient's Subway Rides

The MTA said in a statement that there was no indication Spencer was contagious when he rode the subway and health officials agree there was no risk to any customers or employees.

"Ebola is spread only by contact with the bodily fluids of a contagious person, and the virus cannot live for more than a few hours on hard surfaces," the MTA said. "There is no indication he emitted any bodily fluids on the subway. There were no reports of bodily fluids on any of the subway lines he rode."

One commuter said he first learned of New York's first Ebola case on the subway on his way to work Friday morning.

It's "a scary thing'' because there are "a lot of germs in New York,'' said Chris Thompson, who was riding the L train.

A construction worker, T.J. DeMaso, expressed concern that he and his children could be endangered if there were a widespread outbreak. If that happened, he said he'd move out of the city. But experts stress that Ebola is not spread like a cold or flu.

Alicia Clavell was reading a newspaper story about the Ebola case on her way to her job as a school social worker.

She feels "they have it under control'' but also hopes it's "an isolated incident.''

Some Straphangers Concerned About NYC's First Ebola Patient's Subway Rides

A group of teenage girls in Catholic school uniforms riding the L subway train Friday morning passed around a bottle of hand sanitizer. They said they were taking extra precautions because of the Ebola case.

But other riders weren't worried.

"This is New York, we're one of the most heavily populated cities in the world, so it's not just Ebola we have to watch out for, it's other stuff too," one subway rider told 1010 WINS' Al Jones. "I'm not worried about this and I'm actually a recent cancer survivor. I just literally did chemo a month ago, so if anyone should be worried, I should be worried."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in an appearance on CNN's New Day, said there was no reason to fear riding the subway, and that he would do so Friday.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito posted pictures on Twitter showing them riding the subway Friday morning.

"There's no reason for New Yorkers to change their daily routine in any way," de Blasio said during a news briefing Friday.

Health officials said the chances of the average New Yorker contracting Ebola are slim. Someone can't be infected just by being near someone who is sick with Ebola. Someone isn't contagious unless he is sick.

Some people have been seen riding the subway system wearing masks, but in an interview with 1010 WINS, First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris said there's no need for that.

"It's not a disease that's at all communicable except through direct contact with the bodily fluids of a very ill person," Shorris told 1010 WINS morning anchor Lee Harris during an interview Friday morning.

The city's health commissioner, Mary Bassett, said the probability was "close to nil'' that Spencer's subway rides would pose a risk.

"They're saying for people not to panic, but naturally it's quite worrying," one subway rider told WCBS 880's Monica Miller. "It seems quite reckless. He's come back from Africa and he could have easily passed this on, but supposedly it's meant to be a hard disease to contract, so fingers crossed it hasn't crossed to anybody else."

The MTA said it has protocols in place for cleaning potentially infectious waste from anywhere in the mass transit network.

Those protocols include "isolating a bus, train car or subway car so no other customers can enter, providing personal protective equipment and training for employees who have to remove the waste, and ensuring it is disposed of safely," the MTA said.

The agency has also updated its protocols "to ensure employees are issued nitrile gloves, use a 10% bleach solution for disinfection, and double-bag any potentially infectious waste."

"The MTA continues to consult closely with health officials and labor representatives to ensure its protocols for cleaning the subway system are based on the best practices for protecting employees and customers," the MTA said.

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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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