Timeline: The struggle to stop Ebola

The Obama administration is struggling to respond to the nation’s first cases of Ebola after repeatedly assuring the public that the virus would be controlled.

With a third case now confirmed in Dallas, the stakes are rising for federal leaders as they seek to monitor possible infections and calm concerns about an outbreak.


The government’s message on the domestic Ebola threat has shifted since the summer, when the virus began to spread in West Africa. After making assurances that Ebola would be “stopped in its tracks” in the U.S., multiple officials are now acknowledging that, in hindsight, the federal response could have been stronger.

Here’s a look at how the Ebola crisis, and the administration’s message, has evolved over time.

July 31: Federal health officials say they are confident the nation’s healthcare system can handle any Ebola infection.

"Any advanced hospital in the U.S., any hospital with an intensive care unit, has the capacity to isolate patients. There is nothing particularly special about the isolation of an Ebola patient other than it's really important to do it right," Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said at a press briefing.

Aug. 2: Kent Brantly, a U.S. missionary working in Liberia, becomes the first Ebola patient brought into the U.S. for treatment. He makes almost a full recovery within three weeks, with the help of an experimental drug.

Sept. 2: Frieden warns the Ebola outbreak in Africa is “spiraling out of control” after a trip to West Africa.

“It is the world’s first Ebola epidemic, and it’s spiraling out of control. It’s bad now, and it’s going to get worse in the very near future. There is still a window of opportunity to tamp it down, but that window is closing. We really have to act now,” he said.

Sept. 16:
During a visit to the CDC to announce a major military-led offensive against Ebola, President Obama downplays the chances that of an Ebola case in America.

“In the unlikely event that someone with Ebola does reach our shores, we’ve taken new measures so that we’re prepared here at home,” Obama said.

Sept. 26: A Liberian man named Thomas Eric Duncan is sent home from Dallas Presbyterian Hospital with a “low-grade fever.” Reports later revealed that his temperature reached 103 degrees and that staff failed to record his recent travel to Liberia, a country where the virus is rampant.

Sept. 30: Duncan is diagnosed as the first case of Ebola case in the U.S two days after his initial hospitalization. His nephew, Josephus Weeks, told NBC News that he called the CDC himself because he “feared other people might also get infected if he wasn’t taken care of.”

Announcing the infection, Frieden says the people who flew with Duncan are not at risk of infection and vows that the virus will not spread.

"We're stopping it in its tracks in this country," he said. 

Oct. 3: Dr. Beth Bell, director of the CDC's National Center for Emerging Zoonotic and Infectious Diseases, says in a briefing that the CDC is redoubling its effort to make sure healthcare providers are able to “correctly identify and deal with Ebola patients.” She said the extra communication was sent to hospitals nationwide via the CDC health alert network.

Texas health officials announced that 10 people are at "higher-risk" for Ebola because of their contact with Duncan and four family members are being quarantined. A total of 50 people are being monitored daily for contact.  

Oct. 7: Frieden says airborne Ebola is possible but unlikely, calling it the “worst-case scenario.”

"The rate of change [with Ebola] is slower than most viruses, and most viruses don't change how they spread," he said.

Oct. 8: With public pressure growing, the Obama administration announces that five airports with the largest number of passengers from West Africa will strengthen their entry screenings for Ebola. 

Oct. 11: A Dallas nurse tests positive for Ebola, marking the first time the virus has been transmitted in the U.S. Frieden said he didn’t know the nurse had been infected, but said there had been some kind of “breach in protocol.”

Oct. 13: Frieden says the U.S. needs to “rethink” Ebola infection control and announces a series of new steps that he said would improve care at the Dallas hospital, as well as an investigation into what went wrong.

“I think what we recognize is that that care is complex, and we're now working very closely with the hospital to make that care simpler and easier,” he said.

Oct. 14: Frieden acknowledges for the first time that the CDC response was inadequate and announces new emergency response teams to be dispatched in the event of other Ebola cases. He says that, “with 20/20 hindsight,” the federal response should have been different.

“I wish we put a team like this on the ground the day the patient, the first patient was diagnosed. That might have prevented this infection,” he said.

Oct: 15: A second nurse is diagnosed with Ebola in Dallas. In a morning interview, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell says the oversight of the Dallas hospital could have been “much better.”

Later that day, the CDC announces that the second infected nurse had traveled on a commercial flight with 132 passengers just hours before she began showing symptoms. 

Frieden said the nurse "should not have been allowed to travel" even though the chances of the virus spreading are “extremely low."