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Mayor Anthony Williams Holds News Conference to Discuss Anthrax in Washington, D.C.

Aired October 20, 2001 - 16:56   ET


CATHERINE CALLAWAY, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone, I'm Catherine Callaway. We're going to take you now to Washington, D.C., to the Reeves Center, where we are expecting the mayor, Anthony Williams, to hold a news conference, put some news. Let's listen in.

MAYOR ANTHONY WILLIAMS, WASHINGTON, D.C.: ... and I want to first of all apologize for the delay in getting down here to you. This is a rapidly evolving situation, and we want to be able to provide you up-to-date on information as we have it, based on what we are finding ourselves here in the District, and also what we're doing in consultation and coordination with the Postal Service, with the Centers for Disease Control, with Secretary Thompson and his people over at HHS and Governor Ridge in the Office of Homeland Security.

With me and representing various organizations -- first of all, representing the council and the chair of our Judiciary Committee, it's Kathy Patterson. She joins me. I briefed her on the situation earlier this afternoon, when we were both in a neighborhood walk-up on ward three. Ivan Walks, who is our chief health officer for the city. He will be speaking after me. He has been in consultation with a number of folks at CDC. Senator Frist, representing I think the Capitol, Secretary Thompson and Governor Ridge, as the situation has unfolded. We also have a Dr. Rima Kaval (ph) -- I hope I'm saying that correctly -- representing the Center for Disease Control. We have got folks from the post office here as well.

Throughout this incident and this new risk of -- from anthrax, my concern as mayor of this city has been to ensure that folks throughout our city are receiving the prompt attention and treatment that they deserve that is equal for all people, irrespective of where they come from or where they were.

And we have had briefings sessions for media newsrooms. We have now been actively engaged up in the Capitol about the situation there. Ivan can talk about the new findings over at the Ford and Dirksen buildings and the expanded treatment that's happening there.

But I've been concerned about people throughout the chain of custody at this mail, people who have been working on -- in mailrooms throughout our city, workers who are not of high-profile but are also potentially exposed to this. And for this reason, before any of this was known, as a matter of fact, my mother and I traveled to two post offices yesterday to talk to postal employees and to try to build up morale, in my mind, recognizing that there was this danger out there.

Unfortunately, it turns out that this danger now is possibly -- possibly I emphasize -- risen to a new level. We know now that a gentleman out at Fairfax Hospital is now being treated. This information was picked up because early after September 11, our public health department in conjunction with our hospitals went from diagnostic notification to a symptom notification.

And because of that, we have got early warning that there's a possible situation out in Fairfax. Centers for Disease Control, I understand is now monitoring that situation, and tests are being done there. There's reason to believe that because this gentleman is from the Brentwood mail handling facility that there is a threat there that has to be managed. My understanding of the postal folks -- and they can speak to you -- is that tests are already under way there, have already been under way, and that they are in the process of being -- the cultures are in the process of being tested as we speak and results will be known.

What I want to emphasize before I turn this over to Ivan to talk about the medical details of this is that I'm going to do everything that I can working with whomever I can to ensure this and that is that all of our people, whoever they may be, if medical science tells us that there is an exposure to this risk, that they are getting the prompt, first rate treatment that they deserve.

I think that's our first order of business here. As I've done since September 11, I'm going to be visiting with the families who are involved. I want to continue to do that. I want to continue to be out there to show our support for these postal employees. We've talked about folks in the line of duty and since September 11th and this attack on our country, there are many, many people who have been exposed to danger and have died in the line of duty.

Unfortunately we're now adding a whole new list of folks who are now exposed and are in harm's way, and I think I speak for everyone in our city. I know I speak for everyone in my family -- my mom and dad worked in the post office for over 60 years and they raised a family working in a post office, so this is something very personal to me, and I know that I speak for all of us, and when I say that our hearts go out to our workers in this very, very difficult situation.

I think everybody ought to remain calm. Everybody ought to know that we're working overtime, 24-seven, to see that the best medical science is applied and that it's applied wherever it's needed to whomever needs it. And with that, I'm going to turn it over now to Ivan Walks -- he's our chief health officer, to talk about -- and I'll be happy to answer some questions -- Ivan Walks to talk about the medical issues here -- Ivan.

DR. IVAN WALKS, CHIEF HEALTH OFFICER OF WASHINGTON, D.C.: Good afternoon. What I'd like to start by making clear is that we are talking about an illness that we are able to identify. We are able to diagnose, and we are able to treat successfully.

It's critical that people understand that we are able to diagnose and treat this illness effectively and people recover and do well. Having said that, we have put a tremendous team together and they have been working diligently to ensure that of all the stories that have been carried over the last several days, we have had some incidents. We have had many people tested.

We have had some places confirmed as an anthrax-confirmed incident, and we have had a few people confirmed as having become ill because of anthrax. But we have been able to treat those people successfully and we're able to follow the chain and identify.

Let me tell you what I mean by that. The Centers for Disease Control has been working very closely with us. The folks at the U.S. Capitol have been working very closely with us. The Department of Health has worked closely with them. And so you have a combined public health response that is really tremendous.

What that has allowed us to do is to move, as the mayor said, from waiting until people have a diagnosis to early getting all the appropriate folks involved to run down, track down, and make sure we treat early and appropriately any potential illness and certainly that we treat effectively any actual illness.

There was an earlier press conference this afternoon that talked about something that we expected, which talked about some additional positive findings based on the testing done in some of the mail handling facilities. As mail goes through, we expected that we would find some of that -- those folks are going to be handled appropriately by the folks at the U.S. Capitol.

They will contact the people who need to be contacted and ensure that they are treated. At this point, we do not have a need for additional people testing, nasal swabs, and what have you, on a large scale -- we do not. Some of you have concerns about an individual who is now ill and who is now receiving treatment.

There is no confirmation as to the reason of that person's illness at this time. That person is being treated appropriately for an illness that would be treated with antibiotics pending the diagnosis. So again, a public health response that is appropriate and treatment that is appropriate.

What is positive in this story is that we know that our system is able to respond and respond effectively. We know that people do not have to change their activities in order to remain safe. We can, in fact, respond as we need to respond. Now the post office site, again, has had environmental cultures done.

Essentially you kind of check the area and see what's there and you -- and you rub the machines and what have you and make sure that you see what grows from what you rub. And that's plain layman's talk about what's happening in all the sites where we have concerns. Those tests are ongoing.

As what -- as happened at the Capitol, if sites are confirmed as positive, then people will be treated as appropriate. But the folks here in the district, consistent with what the mayor said, are being treated no differently than anyone else is being treated. When there is a confirmed anthrax incident, we respond by making sure people get appropriate treatment.

What we want to avoid is anytime we hear the word anthrax, everyone rushes to get tested and everyone gets put on antibiotics. Antibiotics are not benign medications. Cipro is not a benign medication. I think our public health response has been coordinated.

Our public health response has been appropriate and as we know -- as we know about positive confirmed anthrax incidents from environmental testing and as we know about individuals who may have a positive confirmed test result, we will absolutely let you know because the media is one of our partners in helping people get the news about what to do and where they need to go.

The one person the mayor did not mention that I do want to mention is Bob Malson (ph). Bob Malson (ph) is the head of our D.C. Hospital Association and the hospitals have been our partner throughout -- they have actually done some tremendous public health work. When people have gone to the hospitals and said I think I was near the Capitol. I want you to test me ...

CALLAWAY: You are listening to Dr. Ivan Walks, a Washington, D.C. chief health officer there, and before him we listened to Mayor Anthony Williams -- Tony Williams, telling us that the investigation into possible anthrax exposure -- possible anthrax infections continuing in Washington, DC.

This in light of an announcement this morning that there was some anthrax found in the House office building in an off-site mail delivery center. Also we heard the mayor say that there is a possible situation -- quote -- "possible situation," with a gentleman at the Fairfax Hospital who's being treated there. Both making it very clear that this is an investigation, that they will continue to treat until they have a -- indeed have an infection.

Let's go now to Kate Hill -- Kate Snow, rather, who is on Capitol Hill for the very latest. A very busy day for you Kate with news coming from the House today that indeed anthrax was found or possible spores found there in the -- in the House office building.

KATE SNOW, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. And Catherine, let's back up for a second. There could -- and I emphasize could -- be a link between these two stories, and here's why.

The gentleman that they just mentioned in that news conference, you head the mayor say that there is a gentleman at Fairfax Hospital, which is in suburban Washington, out in Virginia being treated. You heard them say they don't know exactly what that person has.

He's not been diagnosed yet. But this person works at the Brentwood facility. That is a central mail facility in Washington, D.C., in the city of Washington that takes in U.S. mail of all kinds. It's a central facility, but mail that goes to the Brentwood facility would then be sent on to the United States Capitol. So some people making a link there wondering -- just wondering rather perhaps there might be a link between this gentleman's case and what's happening here on Capitol Hill -- and I can't emphasize enough that we don't know whether there is such link.

But we do know that any mail that comes to the United States Capitol first has to go through the Brentwood facility -- you're seeing some pictures here now of that facility, which we shot just a short time ago, September 12th I believe we shot these -- this video.

So anything that comes in that's going to go to the U.S. Capitol would go through that facility. Then it would come to another place here on Capitol Hill about 15 blocks south of the U.S. Capitol. That's where the intake facility is for any mail or deliveries -- anything that's being sent to any office on Capitol Hill.

And yesterday we were out at that facility and saw environmental teams doing screening in white suits, protective gear, doing environmental screening of that facility. We can tell you now -- we learned today that that facility, about 15 blocks south of the Capitol, the intake facility, has shown positive for the presence of anthrax spores.

Now from there, let's follow the chain -- from there, mail can go to one of two places. If it is addressed to a House office building, then it goes to the Ford office building where you see on your -- the bottom right of your screen there. That's if it's going to a U.S. House of Representatives office.

One machine in that mailroom inside the Ford Building, we learned today, has tested positive for the presence of anthrax. That's the first sign of any anthrax on the House side of the U.S. Capitol complex. Mail addressed to the Senate side, like the letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, would go to the left side of your screen, the building marked Dirksen right there.

We know that the mailroom in the Dirksen Building has also been contaminated with anthrax and then we also know that the Hart Building at the top of your screen is where Senator Daschle's office is, where that letter was received last Monday and opened and of course we know that 28 people at this time have -- people have shown for being exposed to anthrax. All those 28 people were either in or near Senator Tom Daschle's office.

And we should note Catherine, that none of those people -- those 28 people have shown any signs of symptoms. None of them have proven to be infected with the disease, but simply that they have been exposed.


CALLAWAY: Big difference between exposure Kate, as you said, and a true infection. And certainly we knew that the testing was going on at the Brentwood facility, but this is news that there is a possible situation with the gentleman at the Fairfax Hospital. SNOW: This is news, but again you noticed that they were being very, very careful with their language at that briefing -- I'm looking through my notes. They said that they were not sure what the diagnosis was, but that this gentleman does indeed work at the Brentwood facility.

He's being treated at the hospital. They said he's being treated appropriately at this point, but they're not sure exactly what his diagnosis is. He's being given antibiotics, but they're not sure exactly what he has. It could anthrax or it could not be.

CALLAWAY: Possible situation were the exact words. All right, Kate Snow, thank you very much -- joining us from Capitol Hill.




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