By Ron Leir
The U.S. Postal Service, in concert with the FBI, is undertaking a criminal investigation into an Ebola scare at its Logistics & Distribution Center, 1200 Harrison Ave., Kearny, which handles priority mail.
Postal inspectors and FBI agents responded to the USPS facility last Thursday morning after a postal employee reportedly found a container with the word “Ebola” written on it.
USPS spokesman George Flood said the container “wasn’t a mail piece. It was dropped in a postal hamper.” The item was sent out for testing “and it was determined to be benign,” he said. He declined to reveal the contents. At any rate, according to Kearny Health Officer Ken Pincus and Monique Davis, risk communicator/health educator with the Hudson Regional Health Commission, the container had neither powder or liquid contents. and the container was sealed and airlifted out, via FBI chopper, for testing to a lab in the D.C.area.
However, “At no point did anybody at the facility risk harm to their health,” Davis said. If they had, “they wouldn’t be in the building,” she added.
Pincus and Davis said they were on a conference call with the FBI and postal investigators on Thursday and briefed on the situation. Pincus and Davis arrived at the DVD facility at around 3:30 p.m. and remained there for the next five hours to update postal workers on facts about Ebola and to field their questions.
“The Kearny Health Department has the lead in a [Kearnybased] public health response so we both delivered what we call a ‘stand-up’ talk to each of the three shifts or a total of 379 employees,” Davis said.
After outlining the bare facts on what they’d been told about the incident, the health officials explained how, in those African countries where the deadly Ebola has been contracted, the disease is transmitted when someone comes into direct contact with a victim’s blood or body fluid or a victim’s corpse during burial preparations, Davis said.
“We emphasized that, unlike the cases of anthrax contained in mailings reported in 2011, Ebola is not transmitted as an airborne virus,” said Davis.
Postal employees were given Ebola “fact sheets” listing more information about the disease and were advised they could also consult a state Department of Health website that provides “frequently asked questions” and answers on Ebola, Davis said.
Several employees “wanted to know about the chances of Ebola coming over here,” Davis said, and the health officials told them that the federal government has plans set in motion to monitor airport “exit screening” of passengers arriving on flights from countries where Ebola has struck. And, she said, the federal Center for Disease Control & Prevention “has quarantine stations set up at airports like Kennedy and Newark.”
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents have been trained to recognize Ebola symptoms, she said.
Employees were told that they’d be updated on the DVD incident as soon as more facts were known by investigators, Davis said.