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Weather: Another sunny spring day, with a high in the mid-50s.
Alternate-side parking: In effect until April 18 (Holy Thursday).
To stop one of the largest measles outbreaks in the United States in decades, New York City officials need to find out who is infected and who might be infected.
It's a job for the disease detectives.
City officials have been battling the outbreak for months, and Mayor de Blasio on Tuesday declared a health emergency. The measure requires vaccinations in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which is home to a large ultra-Orthodox Jewish community where the disease is spreading and misinformation about immunizations is prevalent.
We interviewed two health officials who have worked as disease detectives to learn more about these in-the-field experts.
Eric Pevzner is the chief of disease detective central: the Epidemic Intelligence Service at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has four disease detectives in New York State.
Dr. Michael Phillips is a former disease detective who is the chief hospital epidemiologist for the NYU Langone Health System.
These conversations were lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
How would you describe what a disease detective does?
Dr. Pevzner: It depends on the situation.
It begins by looking at available information, like medical records. The next step may be talking to people who have been sick, or their families. Often samples are collected for testing: food, water, blood. Then they piece together that information to determine what is the cause of what is making people sick, and how can we protect the public's health.
How often are disease detectives called into action?
Dr. Pevzner: Our disease detectives go into the field to do about 200 investigations a year, domestically and internationally.
With a measles outbreak, is the goal to find Patient Zero?
Dr. Pevzner: Measles is the bad guy. What we're trying to determine is, how is the crime being committed? In other words, how is measles being spread in a community? What are the behaviors that are leading to the transmission of a vaccine-preventable disease?
How do you take the best available science and really think like an anthropologist, and work on the very complicated social and cultural aspects to how you can make effective interventions?
What illnesses have you encountered as a disease detective?
Dr. Phillips: The West Nile virus. I went running around Staten Island, drawing people's blood to try to figure out how it was transmitting through that borough.
And there were the anthrax letters.
Later, New York City saw SARS, the 2009 flu, Zika, Ebola, and Legionnaires' disease, to name a few.
Any unusual ways you've found clues as to how a disease was spreading?
Dr. Phillips: There was a hepatitis C outbreak in Brooklyn during my time at the city Health Department. We could not it figure out. We had interviewed everybody, observed how things were being done.
One day, as I was leaving the office, a receptionist said, "You know, I just got to tell you something. I just noticed we are getting a whole lot less syringes than we were before."
Well, it turns out people were reusing syringes.
You sound like Columbo, the rumpled television detective.
Dr. Phillips: Yes, that's it! Sherlock Holmes comes in with a big, fancy presence. You almost have to come in on a very simple level. People sometimes don't disclose intimate details or very important clues because they're embarrassed or think you might judge them.
Will that approach work with people who believe misinformation about vaccines?
Dr. Phillips: It's really hard. But people listen to their family doctors. They listen to their trusted folks. The only way really at a grass-roots level is to work with trusted voices in the community.
From The Times
It's a crumbling road to despair. Can New York fix the B.Q.E.?
A few more black students were offered spots at Stuyvesant High School, fanning a fresh uproar.
New York City has a Y2K-like problem, and it doesn't want you to know about it.
Facing a nurse strike, three New York hospitals reached a landmark deal on staffing.
Pointy ears and hairy feet: Who wore it best at the Tolkien party?
[Want more news from New York and around the region? Check out our full coverage.]
The mini crossword: Here is today's puzzle.
What we're reading
See the state's new Sept. 11 commemorative license plates. [New York Post]
Why is a popular local news site in Brooklyn now in print? [Columbia Journalism Review]
A man was awarded $110 million this week, three years after he was paralyzed in an M.T.A. construction accident. The agency said the award was "grossly excessive." [Daily News]
A bookstore in Greenwich Village will close next month. [amNew York]
Coming up today
Taste and spice experts discuss the history of spicy food and the reasons for its burn appeal at the Brooklyn Historical Society. 6:30 p.m. [$10]
Afropunk Solution Sessions and HBO team up to screen never-before-aired episodes of Wyatt Cenac's "Problem Areas" at the Roulette Intermedium in Brooklyn. The event includes a talk about school safety with Mr. Cenac, lawmakers and educators. 7 p.m. [Free]
The Public Theater's Mobile Unit stages Shakespeare's "The Tempest" at Williamsbridge Oval Recreation Center in the Bronx. 7 p.m. [Free]
-- Melissa Guerrero
Events are subject to change, so double-check before heading out. For more events, see the going-out guides from The Times's culture pages.
And finally: New York City's black hole scientists
Black holes are "pretty rare," in the words of Jillian Bellovary, an assistant professor of physics at Queensborough Community College.
Black hole scientists in New York City, like Ms. Bellovary, are even more rare.
There are "probably like 15," Ms. Bellovary said. "If you count the students, then there's probably 20."
[Read the story about the first image ever taken of a black hole.]
For the record, there are billions of black holes in the universe, she said.
I told her I was surprised at that number. "The universe is really big, dude," she said. "New York City, not actually that big."
When black holes merge, they create gravitational waves that "shake space and make these wiggles in space that we can detect," she said. "They are the weirdest, coolest thing."
Black hole researchers in New York City meet almost every Friday morning at the American Museum of Natural History.
Last month, they had their big -- dare I say stellar? -- three-day event in Midtown. Now these researchers are in the news after astronomers on Wednesday released the first-ever image of a black hole.
Ms. Bellovary can now see what she's been working on for years.
"I do my black hole science with computers," she said. "I take all the laws of physics that we know about, like gravity, how stars form, how galaxies work -- things that we have a pretty good handle on -- and I use those equations to make models of black holes in the universe."
She added, "I have a bunch of imaginary black holes in my computer."
So what will tomorrow's meeting of black hole scientists be like?
"Probably full of questions that can't yet be answered by the preliminary data," she wrote in an email. "It will be abuzz!"
It's Thursday -- discover a scientist.
Metropolitan Diary: On East Houston Street
Almost always, the first stop my wife and I make when we visit Manhattan from our home in Nebraska is Katz's Deli on Houston Street.
On our last trip, during summertime, East Houston Street was all torn up. Traffic was a mess. After having our usual wonderful lunch at Katz's, I was trying to hail a cab, but the construction work was keeping them all away from the curb.
As I stood on the corner waving my arms like a rube, one of the construction workers looked in my direction and started to laugh. My immediate reaction was anger. I thought he was enjoying my predicament.
Then he turned, stepped into the slow-moving traffic and motioned the cars along until a cab appeared. Standing in front of it, he pointed toward me. It was clear he wasn't going to let the cab continue on until my wife and I were in it.
As we hustled into the back of the cab, I waved in his direction. I don't think he saw me. He was already returning to his previous spot.
-- Charles Braithwaite
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