Gotham tab is latest bio-terrorism victim

Media outlets and federal health officials say they’re bent on reassuring an anxious nation that the situation is under control. But it’s clear from the weekend’s developments that it won’t be an easy task.

New York Post reported Sunday that it received an anthrax-laced letter Friday that is virtually identical to ones sent to NBC anchor Tom Brokaw and Sen. Majority Leader Tom Daschle.

Discovery of the letter to the Post, where an employee has been infected with anthrax, added to evidence the same person or group is behind the widening attacks with the potential germ-warfare agent that have gripped America with fear.

Also Sunday, a D.C. postal worker was diagnosed with inhalation anthrax. He is being treated in a Fairfax, Va., hospital and was expected to make a full recovery.

On Saturday, traces of anthrax were found in a House of Representatives mail room about three blocks from the Capitol.

The New York Post employee suffered the same form of anthrax that popped up at the three network news divisions. The tabloid staffer became the fourth case of anthrax in New York and the ninth nationwide over the past several weeks. She has been taking the antibiotic Cipro since Oct. 12 and is back on the job.

In light of the unusual events, the National Assn. of Broadcasters on Friday asked the Federal Communications Commission to suspend, for the next 60 days, a rule requiring TV stations to keep letters on file.

“The commission is well aware of the recent spate of attacks on media outlets and other organizations designed to infect and terrorize Americans with anthrax poisoning,” the NAB wrote.

“Many broadcast licensees, in order to safeguard employees and visitors to station locations during this turbulent period, are following policies recommended by the Federal Bureau of Investigation or local police regarding the collection and opening of letters and packages delivered by U.S. Mail and other services,” the NAB said.

Hence, broadcasters are returning to the U.S. Postal Service certain unopened mail and packages, including pieces that have misspelled words and incorrect or missing return addresses. Some stations also are not opening mail lacking a specifically identified addressee, the NAB said.

The environmental sweep through the Capitol complex continued Sunday. Congressional leaders said they would reopen the Capitol today, though House and Senate office buildings will remain closed until results from environmental testing are complete. Sweep was initiated after 31 Senate staffers tested positive for anthrax exposure.

Meanwhile, at CBS News — where an assistant to Dan Rather tested positive for anthrax late last week — investigators are still interviewing employees.

ABC News said Friday that the lab tests on all of the environmental samples taken at the net’s Gotham headquarters — where a 7-month-old son of an ABC News producer presumably contracted anthrax — came back negative. As of Friday, about 450 staffers have been tested for anthrax exposure. So far, the net has gotten results on the first 20, all negative.

The assistant to NBC anchorman Brokaw who contracted anthrax recently is said to be recovering. More than 1,300 people at NBC have been tested, and all came back negative, Gotham Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said Sunday.

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