At the end of NBC’s lead segment Monday about the nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital stricken with Ebola, news anchor Brian Williams read a prepared statement from the network’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Nancy Snyderman.
Snyderman issued an apology to the public in her statement, but did not indicate that she had violated the voluntary confinement agreement she and her crew made with the New Jersey Department of Health and the Princeton Health Department, or take personal responsibility for the violation.
“While under voluntary quarantine guidelines which called for our team to avoid public contact for 21 days, members of our group violated those guidelines and understand that our quarantine is now mandatory until 21 days have passed,” Snyderman said. “We remain healthy and our temperatures are normal. As a health professional, I know that we have no symptoms and pose no risk to the public, but I am deeply sorry for the concerns this episode caused.”
Snyderman and two men were seen in her black Mercedes last Thursday in Hopewell Boro. A reader said Snyderman’s car was double parked, she was in the driver’s seat, and a man in the passenger seat went into the Peasant Grill to get a carry out order. The next night the New Jersey Health Department announced that it was issuing a mandatory quarantine because of the violation of a voluntary confinement agreement. The state declined to say which crew member violated the agreement.
At the Princeton Council meeting Monday night, town health officer Jeff Grosser updated the governing body on the situation.
“Not in a million years did I think that I’d be at Princeton Council meeting speaking on Ebola, especially with a connection to Princeton,”Grosser said. “Unfortunately the disease now has Princeton ties.”
Grosser said prior to the NBC crew incident, the largest concern in Princeton was students and faculty coming back from Western Africa for the start of the fall semester at Princeton University.
He said diagnosing Ebola is difficult to do based on symptoms alone, because many of the symptoms like a fever are common to other health issues. After talking about Ebola in general, Grosser discussed the timeline since the NBC crew flew back to New Jersey.
The NBC crew made a voluntary confinement agreement with the New Jersey Department of Health and the Princeton Health Department that was supposed to last until the remainder of the 21-day period since the potential exposure to Ebola was over. The agreement was violated, Grosser said, and a mandatory quarantine was imposed by the state. The quarantine is in effect until 11:59 p.m. on Oct. 22.
“The crew remains symptom free,” Grosser said. “There is no reason for concern. I’ve also communicated with our neighboring town regarding the recent incident,” he said, referring to Hopewell Boro, where Snyderman and her two companions were seen last week.
“There was a voluntary confinement in the beginning,” Grosser said. “I know mixed messages were sent…confinement is typically voluntary. It also includes some flexibility with the local health department.”
Grosser said the health department would be notified prior to certain instances, but “that was breached.”
Snyderman and the other crew members are being monitored by a public health nurse twice a day, Grosser said. . Their temperatures are taken every morning, and then in the afternoon or evening. Grosser is in touch with state health officials on a regular basis, he said. Police are conducting increased surveillance in the area, and the Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad is prepared in case an isolation plan needs to be put into practice, he said.
Anyone in Princeton who is sick would be taken to the University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro under that plan, Grosser said, adding that he is confident the hospital is prepared if anyone needs to be put in isolation there.
Originally before they flew back, Snyderman and her crew were considered to have no risk for Ebola, Grosser said. Later the risk was upgraded to “low risk,” which means you came into close contact with someone who tested positive for Ebola, within three-feet of the person. A person is deemed low risk within three feet because they could have been exposed to secretions like sweat and saliva, or had some form of contact. He said it was his understanding that Snyderman and her crew were in contact with the cameraman who was diagnosed with Ebola “in an office-like setting.”
“In that situation you can’t rule out no risk,” Grosser said of close contact within three feet. “We were erring on the side of caution.”
During voluntary confinement, food can be delivered to a residence, but Grosser said “a walk down the street is not necessary.”
Officials said the flu kills more than 30,000 people each year and other diseases should be highlighted instead of Ebola.
“I’m more afraid of ISIS moving closer to Baghdad than Ebola in Princeton,” Councilman Lance Liverman said. “We are light years ahead of everyone else. The intelligence and information we have here in Princeton with this is overwhelming.”