The anthrax fright continued to spread yesterday as four new suspected cases surfaced among postal workers in Maryland and New Jersey, and spores were found at two mail-handling facilities in Washington - including one that screens letters addressed to the White House.
All three new cases of suspected anthrax in Maryland involve employees at the capital's main mail-sorting facility in Brentwood. One person was hospitalized yesterday at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center in Towson; the other two were at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring.
Authorities also said another New Jersey postal worker - the third in that state - is suspected of having anthrax.
Despite the discovery of anthrax at the White House mail-sorting center in Anacostia, none has been found at the White House.
"I'm confident when I come to work tomorrow that I'll be safe," President Bush said yesterday.
As Congress resumed business, hundreds of postal workers lined up outside D.C. General Hospital to collect their 10-day supplies of the antibiotic Cipro.
Some were frustrated by the delay in testing and treatment; others seemed fatalistic.
"When it's my time to go, it's my time to go," said mail truck driver Benjamine Stevenson, 53, as he left the hospital with his prescription. "But I sure am going to take all the precautions I can to make sure that time is as far off as possible."
Environmental testing continued at the Brentwood postal facility, where authorities confirmed yesterday finding anthrax spores.
Similar testing had not yet begun at the Express Mail handling facility near Baltimore-Washington International Airport. It remained closed yesterday.
"I guess they're getting held up at Brentwood," said Postal Service spokesman Robert Novak. Once it begins, the environmental testing was expected to last three or four days.
So far, 200 postal workers at the BWI facility have been tested and started on antibiotics, with 20 remaining, Novak said. Test results weren't expected for several days.
The facility was closed Monday after it was learned that Leroy Richmond, 57, a mail handler who worked there and at Brentwood, had contracted inhalation anthrax.
In Washington, federal officials acknowledged that they erred in not moving faster to protect postal workers.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson told a congressional hearing that if another anthrax letter emerges, officials would begin testing and treatment not only where the letter is discovered, but at every postal facility it passed through.
"We're going to err on the side of caution in making sure people are protected," Thompson said.
But White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that the deaths of the two Brentwood workers should not be blamed on federal or local health authorities.
"The cause of death was the attack made on our nation by people mailing anthrax," he said.
Calling the mailing of contaminated letters "terrorist acts," Attorney General John Ashcroft released the texts, two of which had similar language.
The letters mailed to NBC and the New York Post said, "09-11-01. This is next. Take penacilin now. Death to America. Death to Israel. Allah is great".
The letter to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle read: "09-11-01. You can not stop us. We have this anthrax. You die now. Are you afraid?"
Ashcroft said the letters were released because "all of these, we hope, will alert citizens and others to the kind of thing to look for and may provide us with indications about other items sent through the mail."
He said investigators still did not know whether the letters were tied to last month's deadly hijackings in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
The whirlwind of anthrax deaths, infections and workplace contamination that began with a single diagnosis in Florida on Oct. 4 has now claimed three lives, sickened at last nine other Americans, and swept thousands more into a storm of antibiotics and worry.
The growing list of victims includes six people with inhalation anthrax in Florida and Washington. Three have died, and three remain hospitalized.
Tests confirmed yesterday that inhaled anthrax caused the deaths of two employees of the Brentwood facility. Thomas L. Morris Jr., 55, of Suitland died Sunday at a Fairfax, Va., hospital. Joseph P. Curseen Jr., 47, of Clinton died Monday at a hospital in Prince George's County.
There also have been six confirmed cases of cutaneous anthrax, the more easily treated skin infection, all in New York and New Jersey. All those people were recovering.
In addition to the newly confirmed cases, Dr. Ivan Walks, Washington's chief health officer, said health authorities in the capital area were following four people whose illnesses are listed as "suspicious" for anthrax. Twelve other cases are being watched, he said, but are of "very low suspicion."
Maryland health officials confirmed last night that there is a suspected case of inhalation anthrax at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. Health Department spokesman J.B. Hanson said the patient is a postal service employee from the Brentwood facility.
A GBMC spokeswoman said she could not reveal any details about the case, except that tests to confirm whether the case is anthrax will be finished late today.
Two suspected anthrax cases were admitted to Holy Cross Hospital on Monday and Tuesday. Montgomery County spokeswoman Donna Bigler said one of the patients was a 35-year-old Brentwood employee. The second was a 41-year-old woman who visited Brentwood regularly in her role as a postal union official.
Dr. Mark Snyder, chief of medicine at Holy Cross, said the patients were suffering flu-like symptoms, including fever, headache, shortness of breath and tightness of the chest.
Both were put on intravenous antibiotics pending the results of lab tests, expected in three days.
After learning yesterday that all Navy mail in the capital area goes through the Brentwood center, Navy officials instructed 40 workers at the Naval Postal Operations Facility in Anacostia to report to Bethesda Naval Hospital for anthrax testing and treatment.
The operations center was closed to await environmental testing by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Deborah Willhite, a Postal Service official, said environmental tests at Brentwood have been expanded to include "a great deal more area" than was covered earlier by the CDC.
The experience in Washington has also led the Postal Service to order the use of vacuums, rather than compressed air blowers, for cleaning mail-handling machinery around the country, Fleischer said.
Officials also recommended that thousands more mail workers, from 36 post offices around the nation's capital, receive antibiotics. One senior Postal Service official said that in 72 hours, roughly 3,400 employees across the nation's capital had been evaluated and given antibiotics.
Amid the flurry of testing, new concerns were raised that anthrax contamination that has been traced from a mail route in Trenton, N.J., to Washington may have resulted from more than one letter.
"I think we have to assume there is a possibility that other mail could be contaminated," Daschle said. He said some of the mail that has been piling up since Oct. 15 may have to be destroyed.
The trail of anthrax also led yesterday to a Secret Service mail-screening operation at the Anacostia Naval Station that opens 40,000 letters a week addressed to the president. The mail is sent there from the Brentwood center.
The White House said the screening operation was shut down yesterday for testing and decontamination after a "small concentration" of anthrax was found on a "slitter" machine that opens letters.
All employees at the site - as well as those in the White House mail room - would be screened for anthrax and given antibiotics as a precaution, Fleischer said. "The White House has high confidence in light of the security precautions in place," he said.
Sun staff writers Michael Stroh, Susan Baer, Tom Bowman, Jennifer L. McMenamin, Gail Gibson and wire services contributed to this article.
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