Princeton resident Nancy Snyderman, the former NBC News chief medical editor, has finally broken her silence about the Ebola quarantine.
Snyderman gave an exclusive interview to the Hollywood Reporter that is available online now and will appear in the Sept. 4 issue of the magazine. She discusses her time in Liberia with the cameraman who tested positive for Ebola, and then talks about her quarantine and her stop at the Peasant Grill in Hopewell that made national headlines. In the interview, she depicts herself as the victim in the ordeal, criticizing everyone from state health officials to local officials to the nurse who checked in on her every day.
“NBC set up a three-way call between 30 Rock, my team (huddled around an iPhone) and health commissioners from New York City, New York State and New Jersey. What we heard was not reassuring,” she told the Hollywood Reporter. “Everyone was coming up with different recommendations for what to do with us when we came home. When one of the commissioners suggested to `continue this conversation offline,’ I knew they were making up protocols as they were going along.”
She said she was very confident that she was not at risk because the cameraman’s temperature was normal. She said the word “quarantine” was first spoken by Matt Lauer.
“I think the term he used on air was `voluntary quarantine’ while we were still in Liberia. `Nancy, you’re fine. You’ll be on a voluntary quarantine when you go home.’,” Snyderman told the Hollywood Reporter. “Things were moving so fast that I remember saying during the live interview, `Yes, we’re going to voluntarily quarantine ourselves when we get home’.”
Snyderman said she was not privy to or sensitive to the turmoil that was going on in the U.S. about Ebola.
“This was spinning out of control during that week we were in Liberia, and I was unprepared for the societal chaos that we walked back into,” she said.
Snyderman claims a health officer from the state joked about who would play him in a movie, and said he allegedly told her and the camera crew they were allowed to leave their homes and be in the car, but they were asked not to go to a grocery store or a movie theater; were required to take their temperatures twice a day, and were required to check in with the town’s health officer when they left the house. She claims the Peasant Grill invited them to come and pick up the sandwiches.
“The nurse always came in the evening. She’d arrive around 6:30 to check in on us, and she would laugh, saying, `I know it’s overkill, but it’s fun to come in and see you guys,’ and she wouldn’t leave. She either stayed for dinner or wine and cheese. It was almost like she thought it was a party,” Snyderman said. “She never actually checked on us; she just dropped in. So we were getting all these mixed signals about the seriousness of it. People were freaked out, but that was the state of the bureaucracy that we were dealing with: a wannabe actor and a nurse who came over only at cocktail hour.”
“On Friday, I had left my house and headed to a little place that had put some sandwiches out for us because they knew we were probably running out of food. It was just one of those simple small-town gestures,” Snyderman said. “I was waiting in my car while David grabbed the sandwiches when I was spotted by a woman, who then called 911. That night, I was served mandatory quarantine papers by Gov. Chris Christie.”
Snyderman said she did not realize how frightened people were.
“Suddenly I became the nexus for those fears,” she said. “I behaved correctly by the letter of the law. I knew I had never been infected. I had all the paperwork from the CDC. I had been in touch with a health officer. I never left my car. But that didn’t take into account how just downright scared people were, and so it came off as phenomenally arrogant.”
She blames the media and social media for stoking the flames.
“I will tell you I saw the mean side of social media and the number of people who wanted me dead — or worse. It was a traumatic time,” she said. “I never wanted to be famous — that’s not the reason I got into television. But man, oh man, did I see the ugly side of having too many people know who you are.”
Snyderman claims the Princeton Senior Center refused to give her 88-year-old mother her flu shot because they knew she had seen Snyderman.
“That was the low point,” she said. “My ex-husband, a freelance journalist who came to help, lost a story because someone didn’t want him riding in a car with them. I swear to God: If it had been Salem, I would have been burned at the stake.”
Reporters from TMZ stalked her house, she said. Someone put up wanted posters in downtown Princeton that said, “Anyone reported seeing Nancy Snyderman, please report her immediately to the police.”
“The posters listed my home address, which meant we had to then get the police involved to protect the neighbors,” she said. “I just kept thinking, `This too shall pass.’ And every day, it didn’t pass. Nobody is going to feel sorry for me, I recognize that. But it was horrid. It was so Kafkaesque. It just kept spinning out of control.”
Many Princeton residents had sympathy about the posters, but did not have sympathize regarding Snyderman’s trip to the Peasant Grill, even if she stayed in her Mercedes while another member of the crew went in to the restaurant.
Snyderman’s comments do not address the fact that she and NBC were very public about the fact that they were going to voluntarily quarantine themselves when they returned.
The veteran journalist and doctor was back in Princeton about four or five days before she was seen in public. If she watched television or read the news during that time, she would have understood the state of fear about Ebola.
Some of her comments contradict statements made back in the fall. The issue of it being okay to go somewhere contradicts some statements officials made at the time, and the crew member who went in to get the sandwiches was also in Liberia with Snyderman.
Instead of responding to reports that she had been seen in public and saying back at the time that she and the crew were told they could leave the house, Snyderman and NBC chose to stay silent and did not respond to media inquiries. They could have directly addressed concerns back then. Instead they waited for days and issued a general statement. Snyderman did not address her fans on social media after tweeting and posting on Facebook that she would be quarantined. She had the opportunity at the time to defend herself and her claims about what she understood voluntary quarantine to mean if being allowed to go out truly was her understanding at the time. Instead she angered fans even more by issuing statements that did not take any responsibility. In her Hollywood Reporter interview she still doesn’t take responsibility for causing a panic by saying she would be quarantined and then going out in public, saying her quarantine “wasn’t really a quarantine.”