New York’s CMJ Music Marathon has had a brush with the Ebola scare. Dr. Craig Spencer, who had been treating patients with the deadly virus in West Africa, visited Brooklyn bowling alley and live music venue the Gutter before eventually testing positive for Ebola himself. After a report yesterday in The New York Times, the Gutter closed as a precaution, leading to the cancellation of last night’s planned CMJ showcase.
Spencer was the first person diagnosed with Ebola in New York City — the fourth in the United States — and he was being treated at Bellevue Hospital Center for an illness that kills more than half of patients. Precautions, then, are clearly warranted. Still, the more important lesson to take away from Thursday night’s cancellations as part of New York’s annual music-industry event might be how unlikely concertgoers are to contract Ebola, which spreads through bodily fluids and secretions after an infected person has started showing symptoms. And the initial mixed reports about the the bowling alley visited by Spencer show how panic over the virus can do more harm than good.
The Gutter has said it shut down only as a precaution. “We voluntarily decided to close The Gutter yesterday evening as a precautionary measure while we gathered more information,” according to a post today from the bowling alley on a social media. “We are working with the NYC Health Department to have the bar cleaned and sanitized under their supervision and expect to be open sometime today after that is completed. Doctors advising the Health Department have told us that our staff and customers were at no risk.”
The lack of risk was also a theme in statements from public officials. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters, “There is no reason for New Yorkers to be alarmed.” Mark Levine, the city councilman who represents the area of Manhattan where Spencer lives, said, as quoted by the Los Angeles Times, “The goal now is to make sure people don’t panic.” Though the first patient diagnosed with Ebola on U.S. soil, Liberian national Thomas Eric Duncan, died earlier this month at a Dallas hospital — and two nurses later tested positive for the virus — New York’s governor says the state’s medical facilities are ready. “We had the advantage of learning from the Dallas experience,” he said, as quoted by The Wall Street Journal. Authorities say Spencer had close contact with just four people after returning to New York from Africa; all were healthy, though three were being quarantined.
The Ebola scare has already led to misinformation about at least one Brooklyn space that’s completely uninvolved in the situation. Early reports suggested the bowling alley visited by Spencer was the Brooklyn Bowl; it wasn’t. The Roots’ Questlove, who was was DJing at the Brooklyn Bowl last night, urged CMJ attendees to look past any fear-mongering about the virus. “Don’t believe the hype,” he posted. “We are open. #BowlTrain bowling alley mentioned was another alley not @BrooklynBowl. (Side note on the real we should stop the mindless panic and pray for the brother’s recovery and health, we can do better than ignint comments NYC).”
When it comes to deadly diseases, there’s a fine line between taking needed precautions and causing unnecessary disruptions. The Gutter was right to err on the safe side for as long as public health officials say it’s required. But as New York concertgoers head out into the night the next two days to scurry between venues, Questlove’s message deserves to resonate. Who better than CMJ attendees, after all, to understand that sometimes hype can be overblown.