Lawmakers question Ebola doctor's travel

Lawmakers question Ebola doctor's travel

The new Ebola case in New York City took center stage Friday at the opening of a hearing designed to push the Obama administration on its response to the virus. 

“An outbreak in an American city or any major city in the world could be very costly to contain,” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell IssaDarrell Edward IssaThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats clash over future of party in heated debate Issa says he will run for Congress if not confirmed to trade post by Nov. 3 The Hill's Campaign Report: Pressure builds for Democrats who missed third debate cut MORE (R-Calif.) said in his opening remarks. 

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“Yesterday’s news was a doctor in New York City tested positive for Ebola. This is particularly distressing,” he said. 

Harlem resident Craig Spencer tested positive for Ebola overnight. He contracted the virus while treating Ebola patients in Guinea as part of Doctors Without Borders. 

The case represents the second time Ebola has traveled undetected to the United States and puts the spotlight on healthcare protocols that failed in Dallas, where two nurses became ill with in the virus. 

The response appears to be proceeding with fewer missteps in New York City, though some lawmakers have raised questions about Spencer's contacts with people before his diagnosis.

Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) noted that Spencer went bowling on Wednesday night, suggesting it might have put the public at risk.

Before developing symptoms, the doctor reportedly traveled around New York City even as he sought to limit his exposure to the public.  

Spencer's symptoms and travel history triggered a full-scale public health effort on Thursday: a full hazmat team immediately transported Spencer to the hospital, city officials sealed his apartment and disease detectives immediately began tracing his contacts. 

Still, lawmakers questioned whether shortcomings in the wider U.S. healthcare system might also be present in New York City. 

“I think we all know that the system is not yet refined to where we can say it is working properly,” Issa said. 

“Any further fumbles, bumbles or missteps … can no longer be tolerated,” he said. 

The strongest rebuke of the federal government's response so far came from a witness representing nurses, who called the handling of the Dallas outbreak “dangerously inconsistent and inadequate.”

“Shifting guidelines from agencies and reliance on voluntary compliance has left healthcare workers [vulnerable],” said National Nurses United Co-President Deborah Burger. 

“Every [registered nurse] who works in a healthcare facility could be a Nina Pham or Amber Vinson,” she said, referring to the Dallas nurses. 

The hearing took place before a large audience on Capitol Hill, though fewer than 20 lawmakers of the 40-member panel were present.

National Nurses United, the largest U.S. nurses union, had 60 to 70 people in the audience.