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New York Mayor Giuliani, Health Commissioner Hold Press Conference

Aired October 19, 2001 - 14:43   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has gone to "The New York Post."

No, he's at city hall. We assume he will talk something about this latest outbreak of anthrax outbreak -- this latest case of outbreak -- apologies -- that occurred at "The New York Post."

But, clearly, there are some preliminaries going on. And I'm not entirely sure. Were these the firefighters that came from Oklahoma City? Is that what this is?

In any case, that's going on at city hall.

You want to take this? Or do you want to wait? OK, let's listen to what he said. That would the easiest way to figure out what's going on.


RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: This is very, much appreciated. We have borrowed a lot from the experience of Oklahoma City and the way in which the people of Oklahoma City had to deal with the first really major terrorist attack on the United States.

Some of the people that we lost had worked in Oklahoma City helping with the recovery effort and the relief, and felt a real strong bond with Oklahoma City.

And we will plant this in City Hall Park. I'll make sure Henry doesn't steal it for Central Park -- our parks' commissioner. This will go in City Hall Park in a very special place. Thank you. It means a great deal.

The second thing that we need to announce today is that there is a, I guess it would be now, a fourth case of anthrax that was diagnosed late yesterday -- well, actually last evening. It's a case of cutaneous anthrax. The woman diagnosed with it works at the New York Post. But she is already back at work, or she is at work, actually. And she is either recovered or very close to being recovered.

I'll tell you the brief history of it without revealing her identity, which for privacy reasons really should be protected. She began having symptoms back on September 22, which she attributed to an insect bite. On September 28 the rash, I guess, was getting much worse. And she began antibiotic treatment, not Cipro, but another antibiotic.

On October 12 she reported the symptoms to the health department. The health department recommended that she be on Cipro. So she's been on Cipro since October the 12th and been on antibiotics since September 28.

She was then both biopsied and given a blood test. The biopsy came back first, and it came back negative. And the blood test came back late yesterday afternoon or early evening, and that came back positive. And the conclusion is that she has anthrax and that the biopsied test came back negative because the scab or...

(UNKNOWN): Lesion.

GIULIANI: Lesion, right. That's the right word. The lesion had been cleaned and, therefore, was not really an accurate biopsy. But the blood test was determined to be anthrax.

Among her other duties, she does open mail. And, as I said, the symptoms go back to September 22, which is around -- we're talking about the same time period in which, apparently, the people at NBC, ABC and now CBS also have people who have contracted anthrax. And in most cases, aside from the child, are people who handle mail.

So this is the fourth case. We're doing the same things at the Post that we've done at the other three places. Although, in the case of the Post, we had done preliminary testing several days ago when we did a preemptive group of tests. And at the time, some of the security people had questions about this particular woman or questions about the fact that she was undergoing treatment. So a lot of tests were taken in the areas that she had been in.

So we will go back today; we already have. We'll conduct additional interviews. We'll conduct additional tests beyond what had been done earlier in the week. And at this point, there's no reason for anybody to be overly alarmed. The symptoms go back to September 22 in this case, and there is nobody else with symptoms. So whatever this is, we'll try to get to the bottom of it. But it is nothing that people should get particularly alarmed about.

And the building is safe. Correct?

(UNKNOWN): Right.

GIULIANI: The building is safe, and there's no reason to interrupt what's going on there. The test can be done today, and probably will do some over the weekend as well.

But again, it's not an emergency situation since you have no one else with symptoms over, you know, a very, very long period of time.

The numbers that now are -- a total of 4,470 now identified as missing. It's 460 determined to be dead, for a total of 4,880. And the number of tons removed is 292,502 tons of debris -- 66,797 tons of steel, for a total of 359,299 total tons. 24,321 truckloads have been removed in what is a 24-hour-a-day, around-the- clock effort to remove as much of the debris as possible.

And finally, I'll also announce that the program to boost New York restaurant businesses with $20.01 lunches and $30.01 dinners continues. It's going to be extended. The program has been so successful that nearly 150 of the city's restaurants will continue to offer price-fixed three-course lunch menus for $20.01 and dinner menus for $3.01 (sic). And it'll continue through all of next, I believe.

So if anybody wants more information about this, they can log onto and get a list of the restaurants that are offering these lunches and dinners at low prices, particularly for the high quality restaurants that they are.

QUESTION: Mr. Mayor, would you recommend anyone that works in obviously this media circle we've seen it two of the dial (ph), a couple different stations, in different newspapers. Would you recommend people who work in the mail rooms just be tested by the city, either way, whether there has been a letter that's been received there or -- Dr. Cohen?

GIULIANI: I'm close to getting arrested for practicing medicine, so I better let the doctor...


NEAL COHEN, NEW YORK CITY HEALTH COMMISSIONER: No. It really doesn't make sense because even in institutions where we know there have been letters that have been sent that ended up -- or we have strong evidence that this letter ending up having been sent, such as NBC, we're not at this point coming up with individuals who are testing positive, even people who were in very close proximity.

So it's a test that would have false reassurance to people, that it wouldn't be grounded in science. And people need to be comforted to know that we are taking very close looks at the environments in all these institutions. We will be having ongoing surveillance, and that we will be looking at the environment and looking and analyzing for any evidence of spores.

But for individuals to test themselves without any awareness of illness is barking up the wrong tree, because it would provide false reassurance to people, and that's not a good way to go either.

QUESTION: Dr. Cohen, we now know that -- we've heard the nasal swabs aren't reliable. We now know biopsies aren't 100 percent. Should all tests that do go on from this point forward, do either of you doctors think, should they just be blood tests to eliminate these false reports?

COHEN: I'm not sure what you mean that the nasal swabs are unreliable. They're quite reliable when they're used in the way that they ought to be used, and all of these tests are reliable when they're used in the appropriate fashion.

GIULIANI: Medical testing is not 100 percent, so to describe it as not reliable would be highly inappropriate and convey the wrong message. There is no medical test that always turns out correct 100 percent of the time. And in this particular case, the lesion had already been cleaned. So you have to -- so the reality is you take different tests and the tests will give you results. And if you have symptoms, you probably should be tested. If you don't have symptoms, you shouldn't go about being tested.

QUESTION: Mayor, given the technology (OFF-MIKE) in this case, should we infer that the city probably won't announce new cases of suspected anthrax infection until they're confirmed?

GIULIANI: I don't gather what you're talking about.

QUESTION: Well, the health department was going to find out (OFF-MIKE)

GIULIANI: I assume that's right. We don't...

COHEN: We were working very closely with the CDC on the analyses of the battery of tests that were being carried out. The day before, we received information that the skin biopsy was negative. We knew at that point that it was, and we alerted the individual that it was not definitive and that we needed to get a blood test to make that confirmatory.

So we were very clear with her, and I believe she shared that information with others as well, that we did not have a definitive test without looking at a whole battery of testing that was being done, both on the skin and on the blood.

We get a lot of people in the city now who are expressing a lot of anxiety, who may say they picked up a powder or may feel that they had some reason to believe that they had an exposure. And if we were to have a new category of suggestive that doesn't go through all the rigors of the testing that we do, I think that it would alarm too many people much too much, and it would be -- I think it would do us all much more harm that good. It would stir up anxiety instead of having good scientific basis to say whether somebody in fact is showing evidence of an infection or they're not.

BROWN: That's Neal Cohen, the New York City health commissioner, talking about all of the -- we are all learning more about medical testing and medical protocol on these sorts of things.

But, anyway, the issue was, the first test on "The New York Post" employee came back negative. Reporters wanted to though why that was. Are these tests reliable or aren't they?

I think we have all had questions like that over the last week or so -- and the doctor explaining -- and that mayor at one point explaining as well what the issues were there.




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