A visibly giddy Craig Spencer, the doctor diagnosed with Ebola in New York City, was released from Bellevue Hospital Center on Tuesday morning, ending a saga that began nearly three weeks ago when he was rushed there and tested for the virus.
Spencer walked outside to cheers from the medical personnel who had treated him and from the crowd gathered near the hospital. He was greeted with what Mayor Bill de Blasio called “the official mayoral hug,” along with hugs from Chirlane McCray, the city’s first lady, and nurses from Bellevue.
“It’s a very, very good day…Dr. Spencer is Ebola free and New York City is Ebola free,” de Blasio said during a news conference outside the hospital.
Spencer was declared free of the virus on Monday night, 19 days after he was taken to Bellevue and diagnosed with Ebola. His clean bill of health means that the United States now has no known cases of Ebola.
De Blasio praised Spencer for his work treating patients in West Africa and for how the doctor kept up his sense of humor during his treatment in Manhattan.
“It is a good feeling to hug a hero,” de Blasio said. “And we have a hero here in our midst. Someone who served others no matter how much danger, and he has been an inspiration throughout the challenges he has faced.”
During his remarks outside the hospital, Spencer urged the public and the media focus their attention on the crisis in West Africa. He also said medical workers and others who travel to West Africa to fight the disease should not be stigmatized upon their return.
Spencer’s diagnosis prompted concerns in New York, where he had taken the subway and visited restaurants and bars, and sparked a larger debate over how to treat medical personnel returning from the heart of the Ebola epidemic. Government officials from New Jersey and New York to Maine vowed to quarantine these medical workers, a move that was criticized by aid groups and public-health experts.
The New York City health department has said it is monitoring hundreds of people for possible exposure to Ebola, which includes those who treated Spencer at Bellevue and others who had traveled from West Africa. These people are being watched for 21 days, which is the time it takes a person to develop Ebola symptoms.
In addition to being the first (and, so far, only) person diagnosed with Ebola in New York, Spencer was also the only medical worker known to have contracted Ebola in West Africa and returned to the United States before being diagnosed. Several others have contracted Ebola in West Africa and been taken back to the United States for treatment.
Before Spencer, there were three diagnoses of Ebola in the United States: A Liberian man who flew to Texas before being diagnosed and two nurses who contracted the virus while treating him.
[This post has been updated.]