POLITICS
10/16/2014 07:13 pm ET Updated Oct 16, 2014

Andrew Cuomo Announces Random Ebola Drills On New York Subway

Andrew Burton via Getty Images

If you're planning to ride the New York subway in the next few days, you may get more than you bargained for.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced Thursday that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will begin carrying out random Ebola-response drills across the train system.

"We'll run drills where someone is on a New York City subway train, and that person becomes ill under circumstances one might think that person might be an Ebola candidate," Cuomo told press at a news briefing. "How do you handle the case from the New York City subway system to an ambulance to the right hospital? Those practical drills are going to be what we're moving to, on an unannounced basis."

Cuomo also suggested that an Ebola patient will eventually end up in New York, though he acknowledged that "the anxiety is higher than the probability" of a dangerous outbreak occurring in the city.

"We've been operating under the assumption that at some point we would have to deal with an Ebola case," he said.

The governor did not provide details about what will happen during the subway drills or say how frequently they will occur. He did, however, praise the courage of the MTA employees who will be involved. "This is not in their job description," Cuomo said. "It's not what you sign up for when you're a transit worker."

MTA CEO Thomas Prendergast explained that drills give staff a chance to practice new protocols, from disposing of infected materials to safely moving a suspected Ebola victim from the subway to one of the 8 designated New York hospitals the governor says are prepared to treat patients with the virus.

Neither Cuomo nor Prendergast addressed how random subway drills might affect the public. At this point, many subway riders are familiar with images of health workers clad in full-body gear to protect themselves while handling infected patients. Seeing transit workers board their train car without warning -- outfitted in the same gear -- could reasonably cause passengers to panic, believing someone near them has Ebola.

The governor told Charlie Rose in an interview on Tuesday that he thinks "a little anxiety can be healthy" when dealing with crises like Ebola. "But we have to watch what we say and how we say it, because panic is never productive," he added.

When a reporter asked Thursday if his new measures went too far, Cuomo explained that he'd rather be safe than sorry. "Our operating model is 'err on the side of caution,'" he said.

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