Obama: US has risen to the challenge of Ebola

President Obama declared on Wednesday that the U.S. has “risen to the challenge” of fighting Ebola and decried those who he said fanned fears about the disease.

“We have risen to the challenge,” Obama said at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. “And remember, there was no small amount of skepticism about our chances. People were understandably afraid, and if we’re honest, some stoked those fears.”

Obama’s speech followed a White House announcement that all but 100 of the U.S. troops fighting Ebola will return home by April 30. Some 2,800 U.S. troops were stationed in West Africa at the peak of the campaign.

The White House also said the number of new Ebola cases per week has fallen from 1,000 in October to around 150 now.

While marking the progress, Obama was careful not to prematurely declare the job done, saying he was there “not to declare mission accomplished, but to mark a transition.”

“While our troops are coming home, America’s work is not done,” he said.

Though he did not declare “mission accomplished,” Obama revisited the widespread concern in the United States about the disease last fall, when U.S. cases first arose. The Ebola response became an issue in the midterm elections and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) imposed quarantines on returning health workers that were opposed by the Obama administration.

“We had three weeks in which all too often we heard science being ignored, and sensationalism, but you had folks like this who were steady and focused and got the job done,” Obama said, referring to the health workers gathered around him.

Two of the nurses who contracted Ebola in the early U.S. response to the disease, Nina Pham and Amber Vinson, were in attendance, in addition to other Ebola survivors and members of the Public Health Service deployed to West Africa.

“There are those who like to fan fears,” he said. “But over the long haul, America does not succumb to fear.”

The administration’s response to the deadly disease, was not without its problems, however, resulting in the eventual appointment of an Ebola “czar,” Ron Klain, to oversee efforts

For example, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden acknowledged in October that the agency could have been faster in sending a response team to the Dallas hospital that saw the first U.S. case, and could have communicated better with Texas healthcare officials.

Obama noted Wednesday that the U.S. has supported and trained over 10,000 civilians who are fighting the disease in West Africa.

The president touted the progress made in the U.S. ability to respond to the disease, saying there are now 51 centers able to treat Ebola, up from three.

Obama thanked Congress for providing $5.4 billion to fight Ebola in the spending bill passed in December.

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