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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Pols set tone but Ebola fight depends on front line

Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during an interagency

Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during an interagency Ebola preparedness meeting with the Committee of the Whole at City Hall in Manhattan, Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014, in New York. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

Viewed through a political lens, Tuesday's gathering of more than 6,000 people on Manhattan's far west side served as friendly terrain for both New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, given that the health workers' union 1199 SEIU was co-hosting it.

Both Democratic elected executives have long-standing ties to the labor group. Union president George Gresham, for one, pushed to get Cuomo endorsed last spring by a balking Working Families Party. Several top de Blasio aides worked with the union in the past.

The words and presence of the mayor and governor were received warmly. But this was a training conference on Ebola, so at best, salutations and pep talks could only set a tone.

Cuomo and de Blasio vowed coordination among agencies and talked up New Yorkers' compassion and energy.

They will prove less relevant in weeks ahead than their listeners, many of whom are front-line troops in new maneuvers against a viral threat.

Acting state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker hit that point hard. "It is you who changes the sheets of the sick patients who have been vomiting," he said.

"It is you who inserts the I.V. or stands in the way of a cough or a sneeze."

"And it's not just the nurses, and doctors, it's the hospital staff who does the cleaning, it's the lab technicians who manage the blood specimens . . . the transporters," Zucker said.

Managing this effort has to be dizzying -- and has to be delegated.

For hospitals regionwide, there are new protocols, new equipment, new double-checks and new hospital units.

What nobody at the gathering dwelled on, understandably, was how easily many of these new things could fail, at least in the mind of a lay observer.

Gazing from afar at one of the giant screens showing a demonstration of the proper use of protective suits, one private hospital employee said, "That's good, but they should have done this much sooner than now."

Could all these protocols be followed to the letter? Said one health care employee, wearing a purple 1199 shirt: "If you deal with infectious diseases, you're already doing a lot of this. It's just some extra steps."

The conference took four hours in the cavernous state-run Javits Center -- which has a history of emergency stagings. That's where President George W. Bush met with families of missing firefighters and police families three days after 9/11.

Cuomo said, "Unfortunately we have an advantage from watching what happened in Dallas.

"Dallas did not have a chance to prepare the way we have a chance to prepare."

Cuomo, who's running for re-election Nov. 4 against Republican Rob Astorino, Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins and several marginal party candidates, said of fighting Ebola:

"I've been the governor for four years. This has been the most coordinated, the most serious effort we have undertaken of its kind."

De Blasio said of the federal officials with whom the city and state are in contact: "They know we are one of the places on the front line."

In perhaps the most comprehensive understatement of the morning, another conference participant, who declined to be identified, said: "It's going to be more work."

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