Anthrax scare at 30 Rock

Oct 15, 2001  •  Post A Comment

After an assistant to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw tested positive for anthrax Friday morning, authorities began testing other employees at NBC’s New York headquarters to see whether the infection had spread. They also sealed off portions of the network’s landmark building at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, including the “NBC Nightly News” studio and NBC News executive offices on the third floor.
The NBC News employee was diagnosed with cutaneous anthrax, which means the disease was caught through the skin-considered less serious than inhaled anthrax, which killed one man and was confirmed in two of his colleagues at tabloid publisher American Media in Florida.
The NBC News employee was thought to have contracted the anthrax through contact with a piece of mail addressed to Mr. Brokaw on Sept. 25. Because the mail seemed suspicious, it was taken to a security office on the seventh floor, sources say, and then reported to federal authorities.
The powdery substance twice tested negative for anthrax, but because the woman had persistent symptoms (including a lesion on the chest) that could have indicated anthrax, she had gone to her doctor and had been given precautionary
treatment with the antibiotic Cipro since Oct. 1, Mayor Rudy Giuliani said at a Friday morning press conference with city officials and NBC executives.
“She is in no danger and she should recover fully and completely,” NBC Chairman Bob Wright and NBC President Andy Lack said in a memo to NBC employees Friday morning.
The press conference was called after results from a skin biopsy of the employee came back positive for anthrax.
Blood testing of other NBC employees began minutes after the press conference, according to sources. Although there still was no word at the end of the day about whether any NBC employee who wanted to could be tested, Mayor Giuliani said there would be some preventive administration of Cipro to some NBC staffers.
Portions of the third floor and portions of the seventh floor were sealed off, and Mr. Brokaw did the “Nightly News” Friday from Studio 1A, the street-level home of the “Today” show.
The mayor and other authorities continued to stress that anthrax is not contagious and is “eminently treatable” if caught early. They also explained how to react to a package or envelope that seemed suspicious-set it down, leave the room and call 911-and stressed the need for calm.
Throughout the city, networks and news organizations, which had instituted stricter security measures immediately after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, tightened down their mailrooms.
At The New York Times on Friday, Judith Miller, a reporter well known as a Middle East and bioterrorism specialist, received an envelope that contained a powdery white substance. Some parts of the Times building were evacuated. “The air in the newsroom was tested for radioactive and chemical substances. These tests were negative,” said a statement from the Times, which expected results from the tests of the powder by late Friday.
“Newsroom operations are continuing as normal,” said the Times statement.
At ABC, where the mailroom was described as “shut down,” News President David Westin walked throughout every floor to reassure staffers that, as he had said in an internal memo, “This is the time for prudence but not overreaction.”
At News Corp. headquarters on the outer perimeter of Rockefeller Center, security guards at the lone entrance through which employees were able to come into the building donned rubber gloves Friday, according to multiple sources. However, a spokesman said only that “each of our divisions in New York has taken every possible precaution, not only on mail deliveries but on general security.”
A spokeswoman for CNN said, “We are taking appropriate precautions. We halted external mail and package deliveries across the [AOL Time Warner] companies until further notice.”
At CBS, mail that was delivered Friday was being kept in the mailroom until new procedures had been determined.