CBS News employee tests positive for anthrax; governor's office evacuated

Thursday, October 18th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ An employee in Dan Rather's office has tested positive for the skin form of anthrax, CBS News said Thursday.

It is the same form of anthrax that infected an aide to NBC anchor Tom Brokaw after she handled a letter that was addressed to him.

The CBS employee was being treated with antibiotics.

``She is expected to make a full recovery; in fact, she feels fine,'' CBS News president Andrew Heyward said.

CBS officials were talking with the mayor, the police commissioner and the health department to determine the next steps.

It was not immediately known how the employee might have become infected. The health department will be interviewing employees in the broadcast center Thursday.

The announcement came a day after Gov. George Pataki's New York City office tested positive for anthrax bacteria.

Pataki said he is taking the antibiotic Cipro as a precaution, but does not plan to get tested for the disease that has infected two other people in New York City. Three more have tested positive for exposure.

``I don't think it's necessary,'' Pataki said Wednesday. ``I feel great.''

He said Thursday that he was following the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

``The CDC sent us a protocol and it outlined what steps everybody who has been in the office should take,'' the governor said on ABC's ``Good Morning America.''

``This is a war of terror aimed at our minds and aimed at our way of life, and that's why we can't overreact,'' Pataki said on NBC's ``Today'' show. ``Yes, we have to be vigilant; yes, we have to be concerned. But we also have to be confident that government and law enforcement is doing everything that can be done to protect us.''

A positive result from an initial anthrax test of his Manhattan office came back Wednesday morning. Results from more sophisticated environmental tests are due by Friday but Pataki said he believes they will prove anthrax was present.

Law enforcement agencies have spent days scrambling to respond to reports of suspicious letters, packages and substances.

In Washington, the Capitol was closed for anthrax testing after 31 Senate employees tested positive for exposure to anthrax. Among them were 23 members of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's staff. A suspicious letter was opened in Daschle's office Monday.

Nine New York congressional members flew home after the House shut down until Tuesday, including Rep. Anthony Weiner, who reassured New Yorkers that there was no panic. ``We are not gulping Cipro in Washington,'' he said.

All 80 employees in Pataki's office were relocated to the Jacob Javits Convention Center and have testing and Cipro available to them, Pataki said.

The governor suggested the suspected anthrax found on a desk in ``secure'' state police offices could have been tracked in by state police who accompanied him to two television network newsrooms where anthrax cases were discovered.

``The state police have been obviously at NBC, at ABC, all over the environs over the course of the past month,'' Pataki said.

Pataki also ordered the state Capitol in Albany tested for anthrax.

At NBC, where an assistant to anchor Tom Brokaw tested positive for anthrax, health officials gave a clean bill of health to the network's headquarters in Rockefeller Center. Tests on some 500 employees all came back negative.

Dr. David Fleming of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that preliminary testing indicated the strain of anthrax found in the letter addressed to Brokaw ``appears to match the strain in Florida,'' where a man died of anthrax and a second man is hospitalized. Fleming said it is not yet clear whether the Washington anthrax comes from the same strain.

An anthrax test of the air filters at ABC's Manhattan headquarters came back negative, the network said. On Monday, the 7-month-old son of an ABC News producer tested positive for anthrax. The cause has not been pinpointed.

Besides the CBS and NBC employees and the infant at ABC, three people in New York have tested positive for anthrax exposure: two New York lab technicians and one policeman who worked on the NBC case. They were treated with antibiotics.