NYC health department sends actors to hospitals to test Ebola preparedness

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Lucy Yang reports. (WABC)

New York City's Department of Health has been on alert for Ebola, and it's now stepping up its contingency plans.

The task is not only tracking down any possible cases that could come to our area, but also how to treat and contain the virus.

Diagnosing and treating Ebola are all such top priorities in New York right now that officials have been sending actors into emergency rooms pretending to be sick to see how the staff respond.

"I really think it's beneficial," student John-David Noguerra said. "I'd rather us be over-prepared than under-prepared for it."

To be clear, there have been no confirmed cases of Ebola in New York City, but officials are not resting on that. They are preparing for the worst. Hospitals have set up isolation rooms.

"We need to provide healthcare providers with training, protection, equipment and procedures," Dr. Celia Quinn said.

After all, New York City has a large population of West African immigrants and is a hub for international travelers. Experts consider this city a target for Ebola.

"I'm so scared about it spreading around New York," resident Shantel Douglas said. "Just scared thinking about it."

The city has received 88 phone calls recently regarding possible cases, and thankfully, all have turned up negative for Ebola. But this is exactly what the health department wants, for doctors to be alert, patients to come forward and the public to be informed.

"The thing I want to say is that Ebola is scary, but it's not readily transmitted," said Dr. Mary Bassett, chairperson of the New York City Department of Health. "People who have it got it from someone who was sick with Ebola."

As part of its campaign against Ebola, the health department is now hanging posters all over the city in different languages to raise awareness of the potentially deadly virus.

Meanwhile, the calls are getting louder for tougher screening at the airports, including turning down some passengers. The health department says if someone arrives at JFK with symptoms, he or she will be brought directly to Bellevue Hospital and tested.
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