Obama: Ebola medics 'doing God's work'

 

President Obama on Tuesday said policies governing the treatment of Ebola healthcare workers returning from West Africa should be tailored to support their efforts, an implicit rebuke of governors who have implemented mandatory quarantines.

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“They are doing God’s work over there, and they are doing it to keep us safe," the president said of the workers during a brief statement on the South Lawn. "And I want to make sure every policy we put into place is supportive of their efforts."

State quarantines have drawn criticism from the White House, but Tuesday's comments were the first from the president on the issue.

The tougher quarantines were first introduced on Friday by both Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo in New York and Republican Gov. Chris Christie in New Jersey. Both subsequently backed off from their initial policies, though Christie has insisted his decision to let a quarantined nurse go back to her home state was not a reversal.

White House officials have argued that policies and procedures should not burden or serve as a disincentive to doctors and nurses from the U.S. traveling to Africa to help treat patients there.

Obama sought to rally support for the healthcare workers during his comments. 

He said that the United States was "not afraid when challenges come up" and that the nation was "not defined by fear."

"We don't just react based on our fears. We react based on facts and judgment and making smart decisions," the president said.

Obama added that the U.S. was a leader in the world and could not be seen as "shying away" from the Ebola battle.

"Other people are looking at what we do," Obama said.

On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was recommending “voluntary at-home isolation” and monitoring for health workers who treated Ebola patients. But governors still have the ability to impose their own rules, meaning that New York and New Jersey can continue to mandate the quarantines.

While Obama did not mention the governors specifically, he said it was important that returning workers be "applauded, thanked and supported."

The president made his statement shortly after speaking by phone with United States Agency for International Development workers on the ground in Africa constructing Ebola hospitals and medical infrastructure.

He also said he had spoken recently with the second Dallas-area nurse to be released from the hospital after being successfully treated for the deadly virus.

"It’s important for the American people to remember that only two people so far have contracted Ebola on American soil," Obama said, noting that every American citizen who had contracted the virus and undergone treatment in the U.S. was still alive.

"This disease can be contained. It will be defeated," he said.

The president also shrugged off a question on why the Army announced that soldiers returning from West Africa would be held in Italy for three weeks before they were allowed to travel to bases in the U.S. or other parts of the world.

"We don't expect to have similar rules as we do for our military as we do for civilians," Obama said.

“The military’s a different situation, they are not treating patients,” Obama said. “They are not there voluntarily.”

Earlier, White House press secretary Josh Earnest cited logistical concerns for the decision.

The White House said it was possible to do a "personal risk assessment" of doctors returning from West Africa because only a few dozen were entering the U.S. each week.

"It’s much more difficult, I think for obvious reasons, to conduct a personalized assessment of risk and tailor a monitoring regime for them when you’re talking about thousands of people who performed a wide variety of functions in a wide variety of locations in this region of the world," Earnest said. "And when they’re preparing to travel back to a wide range of localities, not just around the United States but around the globe."

"For the sake of efficiency, there’s an obvious benefit to restricting the movements of these individuals so that their health can be monitored consistent with scientific guidelines," he added.