Single anthrax case causes few ripples around Palm Beach
By CHRIS TISCH
© St. Petersburg Times,
WEST PALM BEACH -- When they learned Thursday that a Lantana man who had contracted anthrax, Jessica Spector and her husband considered cutting their vacation short and heading back to Connecticut.
Their main concern: their 4-month-old baby boy, Isaac, who was with them on vacation.
But after thinking it over for about five minutes, they decided to stay. They spent Friday afternoon shopping in downtown West Palm Beach, a giggling Isaac in a stroller beside them.
"We were nervous," Spector, 31, said. "We thought about heading home early. But then we saw the news reports and decided to stay. It gave us five minutes pause."
Most Palm Beach County residents seemed to feel the same way Friday. Health officials said they had received hundreds of phone calls from concerned residents, but found no indications that people were panicking.
"It's not an outbreak. It's just one guy," said county resident Roz White, 70, who was strolling downtown with a friend. "It's business as usual."
Her friend Terry Fried, 81, said she was not scared by the anthrax report, even if it is eventually linked to terrorists.
"They've scared us enough," she said. "Where am I going to go?"
Health department officials said they were not overrun by panicked people clamoring for information. In fact, only a smattering of people were in waiting rooms at the health department.
One health department official said the office had received no walk-in patients who were frightened they had contracted anthrax.
Outside the health department, children's cheers from a nearby school filled the downtown streets; the children were involved in a swimming competition.
A lunchtime crowd flooded street cafes. Merchants' doors swung open and closed from shoppers. And when the workday ended, rush hour traffic was, as usual, heavy.
"It's normal, the same people as any other day," said Carlos Garces, 40, who was peddling hot dogs downtown.
But health officials said phones were lighting up at the health department, local hospitals and doctor's offices. Most were from people who just wanted information or who were worried because they felt ill.
Health officials were telling people who called in with stomachaches or scratchy throats -- and feared it was anthrax -- to consult their physicians. Health officials had checked out more than 100 people suffering health problems, but officials reported no indications that any other people have contracted anthrax.
"There's no panic, just a heightened awareness," said Tim O'Connor, a Palm Beach County Health Department spokesman. "People are looking for peace of mind."
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From the Times state desk
From the state wire