The guys who hang off Madison Ave in East Harlem are not what most people would describe as news-and-current affairs junkies.

As a posse, they sit on their apartment stoops and pass summer in conversation, but discourse often centres on one of the four Bs: booze, Bud, birds, basketball. All life should be so simple.

It takes something big to break the mould, but this week Ebola did the trick.

At a hospital just up the road, a guy who'd recently arrived from West Africa had been bundled into isolation with "Ebola-like" symptoms.


The hospital had ordered tests and was doing its best to quell public fear. It was highly unlikely, health officials said, anyone in the United States was unknowingly carrying the disease.

But ignorance breeds hysteria.

Global health expert Donald Trump tweeted to criticise the transfer and treatment of the two Americans who contracted Ebola while on an aid mission in West Africa.

And an Indiana Congressman ludicrously implied that undocumented Central American migrants might have brought the disease into the US.

On the streets outside the New York hospital, though, there was calm. Someone had checked the website for the Centre for Disease Control and noted what amounted to a coffee-mug slogan reassurance: Keep calm and carry on.

Someone else suggested that even if Ebola spread through the hood, we'd probably qualify for the experimental treatment serum, for which West Africans so far do not.

Indeed, sometimes it's not so bad being a citizen of a resourced interventionist.

That the US Government was prepared to charter a specially equipped jet and transfer its ailing citizens was impressive.

One only hopes it can channel the same energy into quickly testing and developing the serum for the next Ebola outbreak.

Just a few blocks from where a patient remained in isolation, everyone glibly concluded that this time Africa alone would take the big hit.

Even if the guy did have Ebola, it wouldn't be East Harlem's concern. He didn't, as it turned out.

Conversation cycled back to the four Bs. Liberia should be so lucky.

Jack Tame is on Newstalk ZB Saturdays, 9am-midday.