WH: 'Shortcomings' in Ebola response

 

The White House conceded Wednesday there have been "shortcomings" in the federal response to the Ebola outbreak in the United States, after a second healthcare worker was diagnosed with the deadly virus.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said there were a "number of things that the president is concerned about," and pointed specifically to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) concession it was "unacceptable that even one healthcare worker was exposed to this virus." 

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"That was an indication that there were shortcomings," Earnest said, later adding the response had "not been flawless."

Earnest also noted that the CDC regretted not sending a team sooner to the Dallas-area hospital, where the healthcare workers contracted the virus from a Liberian man who later succumbed to his illness.

Earlier Wednesday, President Obama scrapped a campaign trip to New Jersey and Connecticut to convene a Cabinet-level meeting of officials from agencies coordinating the government's response to the Ebola outbreak. Obama is expected to address reporters at the conclusion of that meeting.

The White House said the decision to cancel the meeting "indicates the seriousness of this situation."

"The president believed that it was important to convene to senior members of his team who are responsible for coordinating this response, and the president was not able to host that meeting and travel at the same time," Earnest said.

Despite concern over the cases in Dallas, a travel ban to West African countries was "not on the table at this point," Earnest added. 

"Shutting down travel to that area of the world would prevent the expeditious flow of personnel," he said, adding that the U.S. was "mobilizing significant resources" to help contain the virus at its source.

The White House also expressed confidence in embattled CDC Director Tom Frieden, despite mishandling of the Texas case. On Wednesday, it was also revealed that the second nurse to contract Ebola had traveled on a commercial jetliner just hours before being diagnosed.

"What's evident, I think, from this president's leadership style is he's focused on solving problems," Earnest said. "Pointing fingers of blame will not be constructive."

Despite the acknowledged missteps, Earnest urged Americans "to be confident in the response that is organized by the government."

"What you are seeing from the federal government is the kind of tenacious response that reflects evolving circumstances" and a "commitment to protect the health and safety of the American public."

Still, Earnest continued to leave the door open for the installation of an Ebola czar that would take over coordinating the interagency response to the outbreak. Republican lawmakers including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have called for such a move, and the White House has repeatedly declined to rule out that effort.

"If we determine that additional resources or additional staffing or additional expertise is needed to augment this response, then we won’t hesitate to take advantage of it," Earnest said.

The White House spokesman also flatly denied there had been any political considerations in the administration's decision to cancel the president's travel on Wednesday. A poll from ABC News and the Washington Post released Wednesday found that two-thirds of the American public were concerned that Ebola will become widespread.

But Earnest said it had been "a very busy day here" and senior administration officials had not given any thought to the political ramifications.

This post was updated at 4:06 p.m.