Obama: We’re boosting Ebola screenings

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The White House is developing additional passenger screening protocols to prevent persons with Ebola from entering the United States, President Obama told reporters following a meeting with top health officials on Monday.

The president said the administration was “working on protocols to do additional passenger screenings both at the source and here in the United States.”

“All of these things make me confident that here in the United States, at least, the chances of an outbreak, of an epidemic here are extraordinarily low,” Obama said.

While the president did not say what shape the additional screenings would take, the announcement indicates the White House is looking to toughen up restrictions on travelers after the first individual infected with Ebola was able to enter the U.S. via a commercial flight.

{mosads}The Liberian man, Thomas Eric Duncan, began showing symptoms after arriving in the United States. Duncan was not displaying signs of having contracted the virus during his travel, although Liberian officials have said the man lied about his contact with the disease on travel documents. He is now undergoing treatment at a Dallas-area hospital.

The administration is looking at “all of the options” for new screening, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Tom Frieden told CNN shortly after meeting with Obama.

“We want to do something that protects Americans, not something that either is done for show or something that won’t have an impact,” Frieden said. “The key is that we keep Americans safe.  That’s the number one priority of the president.”

Frieden added that effort included “making sure we don’t do anything that will make it harder for us to stop the outbreak in West Africa.”

Earlier Monday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also told CNN the U.S. is considering screening travelers from Ebola-affected country on “the entry end.” But he said that was being weighed against whether “the extra level of screening is going to be worth the resources you need to put into it.”

Administration officials have previously said that they are reluctant to implement a full travel ban from West Africa because it would discourage American health care workers from going there to stop the spread of the disease. 

On Monday, press secretary Josh Earnest said a complete travel ban “is not something that we’re currently considering.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.),ranking member on the Senate health committee, in a statement released Monday, said he was “glad the president will now increase screening.”

“I said last week that our country should screen at all U.S. airports all passengers arriving from countries with the Ebola epidemic,” Alexander said. “My second recommendation last week was that the president immediately designate a single cabinet member to coordinate the response among all U.S. agencies involved and other countries who should be more involved.”

Other Republican lawmakers are also calling for Obama to appoint an Ebola czar. However, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) urged the president in a letter Monday to pick a Republican for the job, suggesting former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and former Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt.

Earnest said Monday that the U.S. already has a point person on Ebola efforts – Lisa Monaco, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism

Obama said he considered the Ebola outbreak “a top national security priority.”

“This is not just a matter of charity … this is an issue about our safety,” Obama said. “It is very important for us to make sure we are treating this the way we would treat any other national security threat, and that’s why we have an all-hands-on-deck approach.”

The president said that the U.S. was “making progress” at containing the disease in West Africa, but said that other countries need to “step up” and could not remain on the sidelines.

“Even with all the dedicated effort U.S. personnel are putting in, they need to be joined by other countries,” Obama said, adding that while some countries were punching “above their weight,” important international players were not doing enough.

Obama said he knew Americans were concerned about an outbreak of the disease, but that it was important to note the facts about the virus.

“Because of the measures we’ve put in place, along with our world-class health system and the nature of the Ebola virus itself, which is difficult to transmit, the chances of an Ebola outbreak in the United States is extremely low,” Obama said.

At the same time, the president said “we don’t have a lot of margin for error” and that the Dallas case illustrated how essential it is for medical and transportation personnel to fully follow relevant procedures.

“The procedures and protocols that were put in place must be followed,” Obama said, adding the administration would reach out to state and local officials to emphasize that point.

Five Americans who have developed the disease while wiring in West Africa have also returned to the United States to receive treatment. The World Health Organization estimates more than 3,400 have died from the virus. 

Jesse Byrnes contributed.

This story was updated at 6:12 p.m. and 9:04 p.m.


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