Top White House officials on Friday worked to reassure the American public that the national response to Ebola is under control.
Leaders of the country’s health, defense and military branches stressed that they are taking the right steps to contain the spread of the deadly virus, which was first diagnosed in the U.S. on Tuesday.
“It’s very important to remind the American people that U.S. has the most capable healthcare system and the most capable doctors in the world, bar none,” Monaco said.
The press conference appeared to be aimed at calming a public worried about a possible outbreak in the United States of the disease, which has killed more than 3,000 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
The first case of Ebola in the United States was revealed this week. Fifty people who came in contact with Thomas Duncan, who traveled to the United States from Liberia, are under observation, including 10 who are considered at high risk of getting the disease.
Duncan’s entry to the United States has led to calls to cut off travel to the country from the African nations where Ebola has spread. The White House has rejected those calls, calling them counter-productive.
Two hospitals — in D.C. and Maryland — reported Friday that they were monitoring patients with Ebola-like symptoms, adding to the sense of urgency. The case at D.C.'s Howard University hospital is still unconfirmed while a patient tested negative late Friday for Ebola at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville, Md.
With that backdrop, the officials at the White House made the case for why the U.S. is well equipped to handle Ebola.
Monaco said the U.S. healthcare system “could not be more opposite” than those in countries most affected by Ebola.
Anthony Fauci, director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stressed the U.S. healthcare care is “very, very, very well-established.”
While he acknowledged that the disease has spurred “a lot of fear” across the country, he reiterated that an outbreak is extremely unlikely.
The officials outlined a long list of precautions taken to control the disease since it was first diagnosed in March. The first humanitarian workers were deployed to the region that same month and continued to escalate their presence throughout the summer.
The HHS sent its first Ebola-related guidance to hospitals on July 28, and has since provided six more. The department has also strengthened surveillance and lab testing, as well as advising staff on how to properly screen airline passengers in the U.S.
Monaco stressed that the air screenings have been almost entirely effective in preventing the spread of Ebola onto U.S. soil.
“Dozens and dozens of people have been stopped from getting onto planes,” she said. “We have now seen tens of thousands of people [arrive in the U.S.] since March to the current day, and we now have this one isolated case.”
The administration also addressed growing concerns over the competency of the Dallas health system that is currently overseeing treatment of the country’s sole case of Ebola.
Health officials in Dallas revealed Friday there had been a 48-hour delay in identifying people who may have been in contact with the infected patient. The hospital already faced criticized for failing to initially diagnose Duncan’s Ebola-like after he told at least one clinician he had recently traveled in Liberia.
Fauci acknowledged that Dallas health workers had made mistakes but said he remained confident that the federal government was managing the response.
“There are things that did not go the way they should have in Dallas,” he said. “Although there were missteps there, there were good things that happened also.”