NYC Health Care Workers Strip Scrubs in Apartment Hallways: 'Neighbors Understand,' Doctor Says

Dr. Craig Spencer has his routine in place each time he comes home from his shift at the hospital: shed his clothes, bag them up and head straight for the shower.

Spencer, an ER Physician and Director of Global Health and Emergency Medicine at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City, has been on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak, and has been treating patients day in and day out during his 12-hour shifts.

He tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue that as each day at work gets worse — New York has the most cases in the United States, and the nation now leads in cases — he fears bringing the virus home to the Harlem apartment he shares with his wife and 16-month-old daughter.

“From the moment your shift ends, you’re thinking you could expose your family, thinking of everything you have with you — keys, wallet — and how you disinfect those,” says Spencer, 38.

Because many healthcare workers in New York City live in apartments, they don’t have washers and dryers of their own, which forces them to get creative when it comes to not bringing in possibly contaminated clothing to their homes.

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“We’ll take off all our clothes in the hallway and bag them up, which is intimate New York City living,” says Spencer. “But our neighbors understand. It’s a continuous worry about bringing the virus home — from the time you’re off until you walk out of the shower.”

It’s only once Spencer has completed his routine — shower included — that he feels the “freedom to be you, to eat and touch and hug and just kind of have that human contact again, which we don’t get anymore in the hospital.”

Spencer, who survived ebola in 2014, says he does feel hesitant having physical contact with his wife at home, though he hasn’t yet isolated himself from his family, as several of his colleagues with elderly parents or children with underlying conditions have.

“There’s the mental anguish of, ‘When are we going to see an end to this?'” he says.

Though an end remains to be seen, Spencer urges Americans to physically distance themselves from others as much as possible, following the CDC’s recommendations.

“The only way this virus can infect you is if this virus finds you,” he says, “and it can’t do that if you’re taking the right precautions, you’re being safe, you’re limiting your exposure to others in your community.”

  • Reporting by DIANE HERBST

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