CDC: We'll consider Ebola travel ban

Posted on October 17, 2014 22:30 pm CDT

Washington Examiner
by Susan Ferrechio

Click Here to read the article

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden told a House panel Thursday he isn’t ruling out a travel ban from Ebola-stricken nations.

“We will consider any options to better protect Americans,” Frieden told the House Energy and Commerce Committee at a hearing examining the federal government’s response to the Dallas Ebola cases.

Lawmakers repeatedly pressured Frieden about a travel ban from Ebola “hot zones,” a move President Obama has resisted despite increasing public support for one.

Frieden’s response marked a change in tone from his earlier blanket opposition to a travel ban, although he warned lawmakers that such a ban might make it more difficult to treat people who have the disease and manage to get into the United States.

Frieden, who appeared alongside other federal health officials, said if the U.S. imposes a travel ban, “there is a high likelihood they will find another way to get here and we won’t be able to track them as we currently can.”

Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, called for a House vote on a travel ban from West Africa, where the disease has spread in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Burgess said Obama has the authority to close travel from the afflicted nations, yet has chosen not to impose a ban.

“The people are asking for that,” Burgess said. “And they are correct to make that request.”

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., also called for a travel ban at the hearing.

“Have you had conversations with the White House about a travel ban?” Scalise asked.

“We’ve had discussions on the issue of travel to and from West Africa,” Frieden responded. “I can’t speak for the White House.”

Frieden then told lawmakers the CDC “would look at any proposal that would improve the safety of Americans.”

Rep. Billy Long, R-Mo., said his constituents want a travel ban.

“I predict there will be a travel ban,” Long told Frieden.

House lawmakers at the hearing delivered bipartisan criticism of the federal response to the arrival of Ebola in Dallas, which has resulted in the death of Liberian national Thomas Eric Duncan and the spread of the disease to two nurses who treated him.

Lawmakers pointed to deficient hospital safety measures, lagging response times by the CDC and untrained health care workers tasked with caring for Duncan.

“The nurses are saying that they have not been involved and that they are not trained properly or have the equipment,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said, criticizing the CDC’s hospital advisory on Ebola.

One of the Ebola-stricken nurses took a flight from Cleveland to Dallas on Monday, the day before she was admitted to the hospital.

Amber Vinson, 29, first called the CDC and reported a slight fever. Nonetheless, she was told by a CDC official it was safe for her to board the flight with 132 other passengers.

Frieden said he was unsure what the CDC official told Vinson.

“The trust and credibility of the administration and government are waning as the American public loses confidence each day with demonstrated failures of the current strategy, but that trust must be restored, but will only be restored with honest and thorough action,” Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., said.

Democratic lawmakers called for additional money for the CDC, where discretionary spending was cut in the last few years, though more than $500 million in cuts to the agency was restored last year.

“We need to commit adequate funding to public health infrastructure,” Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. said.

Frieden told lawmakers Ebola vaccines and treatments are under development, as well as a test for rapid diagnosis that the Navy is formulating.

“It’s simpler, quicker and would be very helpful,” Frieden said.

Frieden said there would not be an Ebola outbreak in the United States “barring a mutation” of the virus.

When asked about the lessons learned from the Ebola cases in Dallas, Frieden said the best way to prevent a U.S. outbreak would have been to stop the spread in Africa by putting a basic health care infrastructure in place in the afflicted countries.

“If we had done that,” Frieden said, “It would be over already.”




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