CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
White House Officials Hold Homeland Security Briefing
Aired October 22, 2001 - 16:41 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We think we are just about a minute away from a briefing by Tom Ridge, former Pennsylvania governor, now head of the president's Office of Homeland Security.
And while we wait for Tom Ridge -- there's the White House Briefing Room, the room with the familiar blue curtain. Well, here he may come right now. This is Washington D.C. Mayor Tony Williams. And there is Tom Ridge.
And let's listen.
TOM RIDGE, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Good afternoon.
I want to update you on the anthrax situation here in the District of Columbia and then brief you on specific steps we are taking around the country to protect our postal workers and our citizens.
The residents of Washington, D.C., and all Americans, can be confident that their government is taking every step possible to ensure that our mail systems are safe and that they are secure.
With me today are several federal government experts and Washington, D.C., officials. They are here to provide to you the latest information, and then we will all be happy to take your questions at the end.
First of all, I would like to compliment and to thank Mayor Williams and his team for the extraordinary job they have done in responding to difficult and challenging circumstances here in the District of Columbia. We are working seamlessly with the mayor and his team, and we appreciate the mayor's leadership.
A short while ago, I briefed the president with the latest facts on the anthrax situation as we know them. Here are those facts.
First, two postal employees who work at the Brentwood mail facility here in Washington, D.C., have tested positive for inhalation anthrax. Both of these workers are being treated with antibiotics, and obviously our best wishes and prayers are with them and their families.
We also know that there are two very suspicious deaths that occurred today, and here are the facts about both of these cases. These Brentwood postal workers were seen by their doctors yesterday. Both of these workers experienced respiratory complications, became critically ill and, tragically, ultimately passed away.
We are still undergoing final tests to determine absolutely if these two deaths were related to anthrax exposure. Their cause of death to date is unclear.
But I'll tell you what is very clear. It is very clear that their symptoms are suspicious, and their deaths are likely due to anthrax.
I want to take a moment to talk about the aggressive and proactive treatment regimen we are delivering to postal workers here in D.C.
At the Brentwood location, we began yesterday treating more than 2,000 workers with antibiotics while extensive environmental testing is being conducted. We took immediate steps to treat every worker who might have been exposed.
It's also important to note that we have taken preemptive action to treat all workers at the Anne Arundel facility, another mail handling facility in this area, with antibiotics. We are also conducting aggressive environmental testing as well at the Anne Arundel facility.
Now I'd like to discuss with you just a few steps that we've been taking to protect the citizens of the District of Columbia and all Americans. First of all, soon after the first case of anthrax surfaced, CDC placed its medical surveillance team on the highest alert. This medical surveillance system monitors emergency room logs every day all across this country. The purpose of the service is to track potential trends. When we put them on the alert, we wanted them to track trends dealing with anthrax-like symptoms. We will continue to monitor closely any suspicious cases in emergency rooms that may arise anywhere across the country.
Next, we are asking physicians, health care providers and hospitals around Washington, D.C., to pay special attention to any patient who works at the Brentwood mail facility.
And finally, I know many citizens across America are concerned about the safety of their mail and their post offices. That's why the president invited to meet with him Jack Potter, who will have an opportunity to share a few words with you, our postmaster general; and Vince Sombrotto, the president of the National Association of Letter Carriers. The president expressed his admiration and his gratitude to these individuals, to their membership, their strength of character and their commitment to their country.
I think the president said it quite clearly that we are waging this war.
There's one war, but there are two fronts. There's a battlefield outside this country, and there's a war and a battlefield inside this country. And these men are leading their troops and their membership in as aggressive and as positive way as they possibly can to respond to their challenge, their threat; and that's the threat of anthrax.
I would also remind Americans that detailed information is available to help them handle any suspicious packages or mail pieces they receive. Americans can find checklists that give specific and detailed guidelines on how to handle suspicious packages by accessing U.S. Postal Services web site at www.usps.gov, or by accessing CDC's web site at www.cdc.gov. The Postal Service, last week, also announced that they are sending a postcard to every American citizen so that they know how to handle any suspicious packages.
And what I'd like to do is to call Jack Potter, Vince Sombrotto and then Mayor Williams to share a few words with you, a few remarks and then we'll open up this panel to questions.
Mr. Potter? Jack?
JOHN POTTER, U.S. POSTMASTER GENERAL: Thank you, Governor Ridge.
Earlier today I was advised that two postal employees from our Brentwood mail processing and distribution center passed away. At this point in time, we've not received confirmation as to the cause of death. There is a strong suspicion that they died from anthrax. Even though we've not received confirmation on how they died, we will proceed as though anthrax was involved.
Our postal family is deeply saddened by today's news, and shaken by the thought of terrorists using the U.S. mail as a tool for their evil.
These two postal employees join the list of public servants who have died over the past two months while serving their country.
Our hearts are heavy, knowing that two coworkers have become the latest victims of terrorism.
It's clear to us, like other symbols of American freedom and power, the mail and our employees have become a target of terrorists. It is equally clear that we must take extraordinary steps to protect them both.
We are working very hard to educate America. We're working -- as Governor Ridge talked about, we have a postcard out there that's going to every American, we have instructions on what people should do in big mail rooms, we have a poster that's on its way to them, we have a video available to them.
We're also investigating these crimes and very aggressively working. Our Postal Inspection Service, the FBI and local law enforcement are working together to investigate and find these criminals. We are engaging the American public; we want all of America to help us. That's why we in the Postal Service, along with the FBI, offered a $1 million reward. It's important that everybody who receives something suspicious let us know. We want any lead that will lead us to these criminals.
We also are extremely concerned about hoaxes. They're just disrupting the nation. We're going to criminally prosecute and go after those who have committed hoaxes.
And we are moving ahead with intervention. We have very targeted intervention right now to review anything that's suspicious. We also are going to introduce technology so that we can eradicate and sanitize the mail as it moves through our system. Obviously, that won't happen overnight, so we need people to continue to be on guard.
In closing, I'd just like to come back to our employees. Our folks are very concerned, obviously, about this. We're working very closely with health officials at the local level, at the state level, and at the national level, and we're working with them to do what we can to best protect our employees, to test the employees, to test our environments, and to treat those who come into harm's way.
In closing, again, I'd just like to say that this is not a situation where America should be pointing fingers at anyone else other than the terrorists. This is a war the president was very clear about, and the war is the terrorists.
We are all dealing with new experiences. We're all dealing with new situations. We're working as a team to try and deal with this ever-evolving, changing-by-the-minute environment. The men and women of the Postal Service are committed to moving America's mail, but we're going to do that safely and we're going to do that united now because we have lost two of our own.
We're going to unite. We're going to pray for those folks. We're going to work with their families. This, I believe, will bring the Postal Service together like it's never done before.
Now I'd like to turn the podium over to the president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, Vince Sombrotto, who can speak from a labor standpoint.
VINCENT SOMBROTTO, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF LETTER CARRIERS: Thank you very much, Jack.
And thank you, Governor Ridge.
I am more than proud and privileged to represent some 240,000 active letter carriers that deliver mail to every citizen in this great nation of ours.
On September 11, our nation was attacked -- attacked by terrorists. The letter carriers that worked in that immediate vicinity, whether it be in Church Street, which was right next to the twin towers, or whether it be in any of the downtown stations, never disrupted their responsibilities of working to deliver America's mail.
And neither will this heinous way of trying to intimidate the American public, in this case postal employees, will that succeed in creating an environment where letter carriers will not do their job.
We have a proud history of more than 200 years of delivering under all circumstances, as arduous and as difficult as they may be. This is another one of those circumstances where we have to rise to the occasion.
Just yesterday in Chicago, I spoke to more than 700 letter carriers. And I said that if we are fearful, if we do not return to, as the president said, our normal way of conducting our business, then the terrorists will have won. We cannot, we cannot let fear be our constant companion. We will overcome this.
Letter carriers and the Postal Service will work together in a harmonious way to see that the conditions that we work under are safe. But we will not be deterred from doing our job.
We will rise to the occasion, because as the president just said a few moments ago, "We're all soldiers in this war." And tomorrow when I visit the site in Trenton, New Jersey, I will pass this message along to the all the letter carriers there to say that they're on the front lines of our war against these terrorists, and we'll do our part here as our men and women are doing in Afghanistan.
ANTHONY WILLIAMS, MAYOR OF WASHINGTON, D.C.: I'm sure I join Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who is with me, Councilman Vincent Orange, representing our District Council, Ivan Walks, who is our health commissioner, all of us, in thanking the president for another in a continuing series of gestures and statements and acts of support for our nation's capital.
Because I think our president recognizes, as all of us do, that our country is a country of great institutions, but these institutions are made up of real people and real neighborhoods with real families and lives and hopes and dreams that these postal workers are yet another series of workers who, in the act of doing their duty, are in harm's way. And certainly, everyone in our city, our hearts and our prayers go out to them.
I grew up in a post office family, and I know that these are real families that we're talking about here. And I appreciate the administration's strong statement of support -- Governor Ridge, Secretary Thompson working very closely with us to see that we're providing on a start-of-the-art basis, as much as we know, the best treatment for people, wherever they are, whenever they need it, however they need it.
The second thing I'd like to just add to this is to really echo what the union president is saying, and that is to really follow the words of our president. We have to make a strong statement as public officials about moving forward, in the aftermath of September 11, in the aftermath of what we've seen today, that we are a country of champions, and that you can knock a champion down, but you can't keep us down. We're going to get off the mat and we're going to show that what our fighting men and women are out in South Asia fighting for is not a hollow victory, but a real, living, breathing democracy, openness and vitality, that makes a great capital city. And I'm confident that the administration is going to do everything it can, working with local officials like the district, to see that the proper precautionary, preparatory steps are in place to ensure the health and safety of our workers and the health and safety of our citizens.
RIDGE: Finally, ladies and gentlemen, when I served as a member of Congress I had the opportunity work with Mr. Sombrotto and the National Association of Letter Carriers and get to know in a very real and human way what they do and how hard they work and how vital the postal system is to this country.
It is one of the oldest and most venerable institutions of America. On an annual basis they convey, primarily within the United States, but obviously to our friends and family across the world, over 200 billion pieces of mail. This has been one of the most fundamental ways we've been communicating with one another; everything from birthday cards and greetings cards to serious documents dealing with legal transactions.
This is who we are. The postal system is every much a part of this country as our national highway system.
And it's pretty clear that whoever decided to challenge the postal system by using anthrax to not only disrupt service, but take the lives of the men and women who wear uniforms -- we've got men and women wearing uniforms elsewhere around the world; we have men and women wearing uniforms in the post office. That public service uniform still represents -- it may be different, but we still represent the same country, and today it's pretty clear that we have casualties not just offshore. We have casualties in the towers of New York. We have casualties in the post office. So it's pretty clear that this speaks to one war and two battlefields.
And I want to say to Jack Potter, I want to say to my long-time friend Vince Sombrotto, and to echo really the words of the president of the United States, with whom we met prior to this briefing with you. We admire their courage, their will, their resolve. These men and their troops will keep working as hard as they can to make sure that they fulfill their responsibilities to deliver the mail. And the president of the United States and the CDC and Health and Human Services and the Surgeon General's Office, and everybody else associated with this effort, we'll do everything we can to enhance whatever measures we have out there to protect postal workers and to make sure that we work with them to get the mail through as quickly and efficiently as possible.
I think it's a very solemn and tragic reminder that the uniform of public service and the possibility of dying in the line of duty is nowhere more evident than at Brentwood. I'm grateful for the leadership of Mr. Potter and Mr. Sombrotto, and we thank them for their strong stand and their commitment -- their commitment to make sure that the mail will be delivered. And I thank them for that.
QUESTION: When will you get back determinative cultures on the two people who died? And secondly, the word "terrorists" was used a couple of times from this podium. Does that indicate now that you believe that this is something organized, it's the work of more than one person? And are you reconsidering your statement of last week that just was not, quote, "weaponized" anthrax now that you have at least two or three more cases of inhalational anthrax?
RIDGE: Well, there's a whole bunch of questions in that question, but it's good. It's all right. Let me get back to that.
First of all, let's let medical folks -- I still think that final definitive medical tests are still some hours away. And I'd like somebody who may know more about that than I do -- Dr. Walks?
DR. IVAN WALKS, D.C. HEALTH COMMISSIONER: Good afternoon.
We are, in fact, awaiting medical tests to confirm the cause of death. One of those tests is as short away as hours. We have a positive blood culture that is suspicious for anthrax; confirmatory tests are under way. The other tests are a little bit further away. But the tests are under way.
RIDGE: You also talked a little bit about the word "weaponize"...
QUESTION: And terrorists.
RIDGE: ... and terrorists. Well, whether they're a group of isolated attacks or a collective attack -- I mean, we just view those individuals, whether they be foreign or domestic, who work either in concert with one another or independently, as terrorists.
I mean, listen, the FBI is moving as aggressively as they can. The postmaster general has his own inspection crew. We have drawn no conclusions about that. But we stand by our statement: They are terrorist acts.
And I just want to say to each -- to you very respectively. I don't think weaponize is a medical term or necessarily helpful. It doesn't add -- I think it's really more that adds more confusion to our discussion than clarity. And so, all I can tell you today is the information I have available to me today, as we speak today -- and remember, science means there's more testing and there's still other things we need to learn about the use of anthrax -- that as we meet today, the strains are the same. And I have no additional information to give you. QUESTION: Governor, some of the postal workers who worked at the Brentwood facility are asking two questions. Number one, since the Daschle letter would have originated there, they want to know why that facility wasn't closed sooner? And they also want to know why the workers themselves weren't tested sooner?
And the Postal Service spokeswoman, I think, earlier said that they were following the advice of the Centers for Disease Control.
QUESTION: So were federal officials a little slow in responding to the threat here? RIDGE: Well, I think we will always look to, whether it's this threat or any other threat -- move to hasten, move as quickly as we possibly can. But let me give you the sequence of events as I know them and we'll let the officials from the CDC or the post office talk about it.
They followed the line back as aggressively, as quickly as they could. If the envelope was in the senator's office, that means it came out of the Dirksen Building. If it came out of the Dirksen Building, previous to that it had been at the post office on P Street. P Street, as I understand it, was tested environmentally, but the tests were negative. In order to get to P Street, it has to come through the Brentwood post office. Thereafter, immediately they put everybody at the hospitals and everybody else on alert to see if anybody presented themselves with symptoms.
So I think they moved back, followed the chain as quickly as they possibly can. Obviously, we're going to do everything we can every time we can to expedite that, but I think they moved quickly -- as quickly as they could.
QUESTION: Is it possible that the machines used to clean the sorting -- that the air hoses used to clean the mail sorting machines could have been a factor in the spread of the spores at the Brentwood station? And when exactly did the P Street facility test negative for the presence of anthrax? I don't know if that was made public or not.
RIDGE: I have no personal familiarity with how those machines work in terms of the spreading. But whatever -- I think we have to keep our eyes open to any device that may be employed in the processing of mail that it may have disseminated it, but I can't speak to that, and perhaps somebody else can. I'll let someone else who was involved with the investigation back -- Daschle's office to the Dirksen mail room; Dirksen to the post office at P Street to answer that question for you.
POTTER: Let me address the process for machines. The Postal Service has used a system where we blow out dust from our machines, so we are revising those procedures as we speak.
I'll let somebody from the medical community talk about the P Street.
DR. KEN MORITSUGU, DEPUTY SURGEON GENERAL: Initially, the environmental testing of the P Street facility did not prove positive. But as you are aware, a couple of days ago we had received some final evaluation of the environmental testing which showed that one strapper (ph) on the P Street facility did test positive, and for that reason we had pursued that at that time.
We are taking it one step at a time to determine what, in fact, we ought to be doing as far as tracing back, very systematically, following the science. And that's where we had been at that point.
QUESTION: I'd like to ask the postmaster general, sir, out in the real world a lot of people are worried, not only about packages, were they to open a letter or a package, but they're worried also about the letters that they receive. Can anthrax be transmitted through the covers of letters, through the envelopes, not the insides? That's my question.
POTTER: Well, we've been advised that if it's a sealed envelope that it would not transmit anthrax. But, again, I'm not the medical expert. I'll turn to the medical folks to answer that question.
MITCH COHEN, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL: Much of what we've determined has been from the previous investigations. This is really a new phenomena. At first, we had no evidence that any of the mail handlers were at risk, so this phenomena, first having skin disease in New Jersey and now having inhalational disease, is an evolution.
Now, how's it's actually occurring isn't clear, and that's of our epidemiologic investigation, is to try to track down what are those kinds of exposures and try to eliminate them so that we can make things safer.
QUESTION: I had a question for General Potter and Mr. Sombrotto. The postmaster general earlier today said he would be installing sanitization equipment. I was wondering what type and where it would be first installed.
And also of Mr. Sombrotto, if he would comment on how does he feel about letter carriers, should they be wearing gloves, and how does that appear to the recipient of mail when their letter carrier comes to the door wearing gloves.
POTTER: Let me speak to the first question. We have our procurement people, our engineers, out visiting vendors today to determine where that equipment is and how quickly we could get it into our facilities. We're also looking at equipment that exists throughout America to treat fruit, to treat meats, and we're going to look to see whether or not we can access that equipment so that we can begin to immediately sanitize the mail.
QUESTION: You're talking sanitizing not just the surface, but the contents with the radiation?
POTTER: Well, I'm not talking radiation. I'm talking ultraviolet light, and there are experts here who can talk about it. But it's a system that's safe. It's used on food. It's used on surgical equipment and medical supplies. So we're very comfortable that it's a safe technology.
QUESTION: UV only treats the surface not contents.
POTTER: Again, it's the -- I'm not a technology expert. I'm told that these folks have technology that will -- can be brought to bear to address the anthrax issue.
QUESTION: Governor, are you confident that there's only one letter that passed through the Brentwood facility? Could there be more? And is the investigation ongoing in that respect? RIDGE: The investigation remains to be very aggressive. I can't tell you the number of people they have assigned, both within the post office and the FBI on the investigation. Right now, again, as this evolves -- and that's what we're dealing with -- as this evolves it does appear right now that -- the thesis today, based on the facts we know, it's probably the same letter. But we don't know that to an absolute certainty that I could stand up before you today and say, "I'm 100 percent certain today and I'll be a 100 percent certain a year from now it was one letter."
That's why they're not only trying to deal with the potentially affected post office employees, but we're trying to find the source and determine if there was one or multiple sources. So we do not have that information now.
But right now it is consistent with the theory that this one letter could have contaminated the whole system. Whether there's others, we don't know.
QUESTION: Governor Ridge, have you considered curtailing the mail delivery in Washington because of this?
RIDGE: I don't make those final decisions. But talking to Jack Potter and Mr. Sombrotto, I'll let them tell you what they think.
POTTER: No. We don't intend to curtail mail delivery. We're not going to be defeated.
Keep in mind, we have 208 billion of pieces of mail a year. We've delivered some 20 billion since September 11. We do and we are pushing an awareness campaign. We are pushing an intervention campaign and an investigation campaign. We have no intent to stop delivery of the mail, unless we have a situation were we suspect anthrax. And, obviously, then we'll pull back.
SOMBROTTO: That's a long time for me to answer a question.
That's unusual for me.
No, the letter carriers have the option of whether they want to wear gloves or not, and I can say without any equivocation that most carriers haven't been wearing gloves up until this point until there's evidence that clearly suggests that they must wear gloves.
It's optional for the carrier to make that determination. At this point, most carriers have not worn gloves in the delivery of mail.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) who were at the Brentwood facility?
SOMBROTTO: Am I going to tell the public?
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) at the Brentwood facility in the last week?
SOMBROTTO: Yes, in fact, two of the employees that work for my organization that conduct business at the Postal Service -- our mail; we send a lot of mail through the mail stream -- have been tested now because they go to the Brentwood post office.
RIDGE: I think something needs to be clarified. I can't tell you today whether anybody that has been to any of the testing sites have been customers of the post office who may have used the Brentwood facility. But we would -- others may have -- Dr. Walks may have talked about that.
WALKS: We are following the science, putting the health of the public first. There is a danger of over-treating where there is not a clear indication to treat. The science today is that we are treating members of the public who have been working in that back work area. It's important to be clear on that. Some folks from the federal government, our own Department of Health, have been working back there. Members of the media have gone back there to work.
If you have been back in that work area, you are within the treatment perimeter. But people who have not been in that work area, the members of the public should be clear that we now feel the treatment perimeter is the back work area at Brentwood, not the public areas in the front.
QUESTION: Putting aside the word "weaponized" which we heard last week, you reported on Friday that the FBI had told you that these letters were indistinguishable.
QUESTION: Do you have any reason at all to update that information, that maybe the spores were manipulated in some way?
RIDGE: I do not at this time. As I reported, and you're right, I did use the word "indistinguishable," and there's nothing that we know now that would have me change that answer -- I give you the same answer to the same question.
QUESTION: What is the suspicion at the Anne Arundel facility that you say is going to tested? And also, who makes the final decision on whether an additional facility will be closed and the people there will be tested? Is that the CDC's decision or is it the postal authority's decision?
RIDGE: All the decisions with regard to the closing of the postal facilities, the offices on the Hill, AMI, they're all made in concert with public health officials, CDC, local elected officials and others. So it's -- again, it's a very collaborative process, and that's one that I think has proven to work very, very successfully in these venues and it'll continue to work very successfully.
QUESTION: And the Anne Arundel facility?
POTTER: The first employee that we suspected of having anthrax had a job where he went from the Brentwood facility up right outside of Baltimore. And as a result of that, we took a precautionary measure of closing both facilities. He had a recollection of something happening in that facility in Baltimore. We now, obviously based on the scientific evidence, believe that if there was an incident it occurred in the Brentwood facility, but we proceeded to, you know, take those employees, have them tested and have them treated as a precautionary measure.
QUESTION: Governor, now that we've discovered that anthrax can be carried apparently not just inside an envelope, but perhaps on the surface as well, two questions: First, is that something that the CDC or others should have known before this? And second, how does this change the calculus in terms of who you treat, who gets Cipro, who on the Hill who was not on the fifth floor or sixth floor and was not where the envelope was opened may have been exposed to anthrax? And how does this affect treatment going forward if you have this much wider threat of anthrax being carried on the envelope and not just inside of it?
RIDGE: Well, let me just answer the first part of that question. I think from the very beginning CDC and every other public health official has said there were three ways that you can be exposed to the anthrax disease: You can inhale it, you can absorb it or you can consume it. Your question suggested like cutaneous anthrax was newly discovered, but I think the literature -- the scientific literature has always said those are the three ways that it can affect your system.
The medical questions I'll defer to the medical community.
COHEN: I think with respect to the inhalational disease, what you're worried about is an aerosol.
So things that disturb the envelope that could generate, say, a puff of the powder is going to be the greatest risk for people around them.
The fact that there may be, you know, leakage, you may have material on the outside, would allow people to become colonized on their skin and then potentially get cutaneous anthrax.
MORITSUGU: There was a follow-on question involved in that. And while we continue to monitor the various pieces of information that we're getting back in on Capitol Hill, there has been no indication for us to change our recommendation to focus the treatment to that area of Hart on the fifth and sixth floors. That is where we have found positive nasal swabs; that is where there was the specific anthrax spill. And at this point, there is no indication for us to change that specific recommendation.
Clearly, we continue to do the monitoring and continue to do the assessment. And as things change, as information changes, that may have an impact upon the recommendation that we make to the congressional leadership.
I would like to make one follow-on comment, if I could, and that is, that I think we are all extremely upset over the death of these two postal workers and the three deaths that we have seen here in the United States recently. The secretary, Tommy Thompson, and all of us in the Department of Health and Human Services have committed to dedicating the resources of the entire department to tracking down the scientific basis for how we can identify, as well as treat, this disease.
Please put it in perspective as well. And that is, that is fundamentally an infectious disease. It's an infectious disease like the flu is an infectious disease. The difference is that this disease is being spread by individual or individuals we don't know.
Put it in the context that this year there will be 10,000 individuals who will die from the flu alone. We see the deaths and we are disturbed by those deaths.
What we have to see is the other side: the number of individuals whose deaths we will be able to prevent by monitoring and by intervening as early as we can. And we are trying to follow the science along those lines.
QUESTION: Governor Ridge, can you tell me whether or not any of the private courier services are also being monitored?
RIDGE: They have obviously been on alert -- a national alert like everybody else, but I can't tell you whether or not they themselves have deployed any additional procedures other than those that have been recommended, or if they have gone out and purchased any additional equipment. I think that inquiry would be appropriate to them. Thank you.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) stopped any letters that have not been delivered that you have discovered have anthrax? Have you found anthrax in any other letters other than the ones that you've identified -- any that have not been delivered?
RIDGE: As of today, the letters that are part of the public comment and the public discussion and the public response are the only letters that have been identified as having anthrax.
QUESTION: To follow up on that, by saying "part of the public discussion," are you saying there may be other letters?
RIDGE: No. To my knowledge, as the director of the Office of Homeland Security, those are the only letters that we are working on that we are aware of. Now, as we continue the investigation into other places, we may discover others. But to date, as of now, in the investigation that's been done, there are no others.
QUESTION: Why did the CDC decide it was not necessary to err on the side of caution and test the workers at Brentwood, when the employees on Capitol Hill were immediately tested? And who is responsible? Do you take personal responsibility for what seems to be this lapse?
RIDGE: I think I will let the CDC speak to this, but they obviously proceeded aggressively on the Hill in response to that threat. Again, it was a little different. They knew they had a hot spot. They had identified it. It took a while to learn that they had a problem at Brentwood. Remember, they worked that line back, but I'll let CDC give you the answer to that question.
COHEN: As was pointed out, there is risk in prophylaxis when it's not necessary. One of our basic goals is to identify who's at risk. Previous investigations in Florida and New York did not identify that the postal workers were at risk. So this was again evolving. And so now they're clearly identified as having the component of risk.
So the effort is to identify risk and to intervene by using prophylaxis to prevent disease, but not to use drugs that may be unnecessary, which could cause further problems.
QUESTION: Governor Ridge, on Friday you mentioned that a mailbox had been found in the Trenton area. What's the update on that?
RIDGE: I have no further information. It's just an ongoing investigation. All I can tell you now, it's an ongoing investigation.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) some question after you made that comment that perhaps it was not found. Was there one found that might be connected to this?
KEN WEAVER, CHIEF POSTAL INSPECTOR: I'm Ken Weaver, chief postal inspector.
That's all part of the investigation. We're looking at every possible detail on that route, including any possible boxes. But all I can tell you at this point, that's part of the ongoing investigation.
QUESTION: How many boxes have been removed for inspection? Several? A few?
WEAVER: I don't know. I know there have been a few we've looked at. But that's just an ongoing part of it.
RIDGE: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Governor Tom Ridge, the former governor of Pennsylvania, wrapping up a news conference now -- the homeland security director reporting a lot of information. But many questions, of course, remain unanswered -- confirming that there are now two inhalation anthrax cases involving postal workers from a main processing facility here in the District of Columbia, as well as two suspicious deaths. Two postal workers have died as a result of what is now believed to have been anthrax inhalation, although the final conclusive evidence has not yet been determined.
The blood cultures still remain to be determined 100 percent whether or not that was anthrax inhalation, although the widely held assumption now, according to Governor Ridge and other officials who attended this news conference over at the White House, is that they did in fact die of anthrax inhalation -- the postmaster general, John Potter, trying to reassure the nearly 800,000 postal employees, as well as families, their loved ones, their friends, that the Postal Service is doing everything possible to contain this problem involving anthrax-laced letters.
We are going to have a lot more coverage of this coming up.
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