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Dem lawmaker: No need for Ebola ‘czar’

Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) is pushing back against calls for President Obama to appoint an Ebola “czar” to coordinate the fight against the deadly virus.

In an interview on MSNBC, Casey said the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) already had an official tasked with managing the response to such public health emergencies, citing the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, which Congress reauthorized last year.

{mosads}Asked if he agreed the U.S. needed an Ebola czar, Casey responded: “I don’t because under the bill we have such a person in HHS already.”

Under the law, HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response is responsible “to lead the nation in preventing, preparing for, and responding to the adverse health effects of public health emergencies and disasters,” according to its website.

Casey’s comments serve as a response to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who on Sunday said that Obama needed to tap an Ebola czar.

“I’d like to know who’s in charge,” McCain said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” after health officials confirmed the second Ebola case in the U.S.

A Dallas nurse contracted the disease while treating Thomas Eric Duncan, a man who traveled from Liberia with Ebola and died last week.

At HHS, Dr. Nicole Lurie, a former RAND public health director, is the current assistant secretary for preparedness and response.

In an interview with The Washington Post last month she said her office was partnering with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other HHS agencies to inform healthcare providers about handling the disease.

But pressure is growing on the administration to do more to stop the disease from spreading and to calm public fears.

President Obama on Monday met with top health officials including HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell; Susan Rice, his national security adviser; Lisa Monaco, his adviser on homeland security; and CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden.

The White House has also put forward Monaco as a point person for the administration’s inter-agency response. 

HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell last week also pushed back on criticism that she had taken a “backseat” as the U.S. combats the disease.

But officials are facing more scrutiny.

Dr. Frieden, who has been the public face of the anti-Ebola response, acknowledged Monday at a briefing that his agency would need to rethink its approach after the first case of Ebola transmission in the U.S.

“We’re concerned, and unfortunately would not be surprised if we did see additional [Ebola] cases in healthcare workers,” he said.

Tags Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; CDC Ebola HHS Obama Sylvia Mathews Burwell Tom Frieden

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