Discrimination occurring as the Ebola crisis unfolds in the United States is becoming a growing concern. Several leaders in a Staten Island neighborhood that's home to a large Liberian community said Friday they are concerned about discrimination amid Ebola fears.
The comments came at a town hall meeting held by New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Travis Bassett to address concerns about the virus.
Togba Porte, chairman of the American Ebola Crisis Committee, an educational and support organization, said some people are afraid of losing their jobs, or have been sent home after returning to work from visits overseas, even to areas not affected by Ebola. Many are afraid to come forward for fear of further discrimination, he said.
Jennifer Gray-Brumskine, a community organizer, said some neighborhood residents have stayed home for a week or more after traveling to Liberia. She also recounted a negative reaction from fellow passengers on a recent flight to New York from Atlanta after they heard her accent.
And Jonathan King, who has lived on Staten Island for 13 years and works for the city Department of Education, said he has noticed formerly friendly co-workers avoid him, even though he hasn't been in Africa for years.
"They don't come close to me anymore. They don't want to shake my hand," he said. "They don't want anything to do with me."
Bassett told the crowd of about 200 people gathered at a public school that there has not been a single case of Ebola in New York and that the city has been preparing for weeks to address any cases that might emerge.
"I am completely confident that we will have no widespread Ebola outbreak in the city," Bassett said, generating applause.
Staten Island is home to a large community of immigrants from Liberia, one of three West African countries ravaged by Ebola. The meeting was conducted in a neighborhood often referred to as "Little Liberia."
The city is committed "to making sure that no one feels discriminated against, Bassett told the crowd. "Because misperceptions are not only wrong, they help spread disease."
Bassett and other city health and emergency leaders outlined the protocols for hospitals and other health care facilities, and addressed the potential for the virus to spread.
Still, community members expressed fear about being exposed to Ebola through neighbors who have recently traveled to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, where the virus has killed more than 4,500 people. More than 30,000 Staten Island residents have roots in those countries.
One person who contracted the virus in Liberia has died in the United States. Two nurses who treated Thomas Eric Duncan before his death at a Dallas hospital are now being treated for Ebola.
Bassett stressed that the virus does not spread through casual contact and is contagious only when a person is exhibiting symptoms.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.