Dealing With Ebola: Congress Weighs In

Ever since Kent Brantly, the first Ebola patient, was flown in from Africa over a month ago, the country has slowly been waking up to the possibility of a real health epidemic. Because it is the headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control, Georgia is on the front lines, with yet another Ebola patient arriving at Emory for treatment Wednesday.

The growing concern about the ability of the American health system to treat what could become an epidemic has caused politicians to start to offer their suggestions for containing the crisis. First in line was Democrat David Scott, who represents the 13th district on the west side of Atlanta. Quoted in the Marietta Daily Journal Wednesday, Scott told the Smyrna Rotary Club that he supported a ban on travel from Africa.

I have a difference on this with my president. I can’t for the life of me understand why we don’t have a ban on flights to that part of Africa. You’ve got an example already of someone who came into this country with the virus. How many more? That has to stop. We don’t need to ban the flights permanently, just until we get our arms around the situation.

We have to ban those flights. There’s no question about it. We’ve got to protect the American people from this disease. It’s not here — or it was not here — and the president said a week or two ago ‘We don’t know of any case’ where it would be here. And now it’s here, and it’s already killed somebody.

This morning, First District Rep. Jack Kingston called for an Ebola Czar to manage the situation in a Washington Examiner Op-Ed.

The alphabet soup of agencies responding to this crisis has a tangled and confusing reporting structure. Africom reports to the Department of Defense while CDC, NIH, and BARDA report to the Department of Health and Human Services. Meanwhile, USAID is under the jurisdiction of the State Department and CPB reports to Department of Homeland Security.

While America’s response has many of the right ingredients, it lacks a singular leader to outline strategy, marshal resources, and track the effectiveness of the response. Then there’s the rest of the world.

Responses from other Georgia congressmen continue below the fold.

6th District Rep. Tom Price, who is a medical doctor, said that the disease should be fought at its source in Africa.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the subsequent cases of infection here in the United States have raised a tremendous amount of concern, fear and confusion. There’s no doubt that the challenge before us is enormous and the threat to our nation’s public health is real. There’s also no denying that the United States is better prepared than any other nation to address this challenge here at home and provide medical infrastructure, knowledge and aid to the people of West Africa. That being said, the events of the past few weeks – with the arrival of an infected individual into the United States and then the subsequent infection of now two health care personnel – make it clear that current procedures and execution of our prevention and response systems have been inadequate.

Every agency involved, as well as health care personnel across the country, must put in place procedures to determine where a breakdown in protection and prevention could occur and do what is necessary to mitigate future failures. Part of that process must include updates to our efforts to prevent someone infected with Ebola from entering the United States in the first place. Screening procedures of visa holders traveling here from countries where this outbreak has occurred need to be equal to the challenge before us. Denying entry to the U.S., or requiring a period of quarantine prior to entry, to anyone from an affected country ought to be on the table.

Ultimately, the best way to slow and eventually halt the spread of Ebola is to build up the capacity in West Africa to defeat this outbreak at its source. The United States is playing the leading role in an international effort to solve this crisis. As we apply our expertise and capabilities abroad, we need to ensure we are asking the tough questions and making the necessary corrections here at home to protect the American people.

12th District Rep. John Barrow sent a letter to the Secretary of State, the Director of the CDC and the FAA Administrator calling for flight restrictions and a 21 day voluntary quarantine for those traveling to the U.S. from countries with significant Ebola outbreaks:

Dear Secretary Kerry, Director Frieden, and Administrator Huerta:

It seems we are reaching a tipping point in our efforts to combat the Ebola virus around the world and to keep it from becoming a full blown catastrophe in the United States. The American people have grave concerns about the U.S. government’s handling of this crisis so far. The coming days are pivotal in our efforts to regain control of this epidemic and restore confidence in the American people. Please consider these safeguards that I think will help do both.

First, we must stop direct flights from countries with out-of-control Ebola infection rates. This is basic, with no real unmanageable consequences, and just makes too much common sense not to do. We can easily make safe, secure, alternative accommodations for aid workers and those who have justifiable emergencies. But I fear that, for someone infected with Ebola, it is too great a temptation to hop on a direct flight to the United States in hopes of being treated in an American hospital. We can’t risk it.

Second, I think we should implement a 21 day delay on travel visas to the US for any person traveling from, or who has traveled through, an Ebola-affected country. Such a policy would take relatively little infrastructure and manpower on our part. The prospective traveler would simply need to notify us of their intent to enter the U.S. and be prepared to document that they’ve spent the previous 21 days in an Ebola-free country before being allowed to enter the U.S. For the majority of travelers, this would prove to be only a limited inconvenience, and it would certainly be an effective deterrent to the spread of this disease in our country.

Lastly, I suggest we exert more formal control over the travel of those who have been exposed to Ebola, in the United States, and are at high risk for infection. It’s been reported that someone who had been identified as having had a high risk of exposure was allowed to get on a plane and travel within the United States. That’s inexcusable. If high risk individuals cannot be counted on to prevent unintended exposure to innocent parties, then we owe it to the potential victims of such exposure to make sure that cannot happen.

I’m confident these travel restrictions will help the efforts to combat Ebola, and that they send a strong message that we’re serious about the health and safety of the American people. I hope you’ll take these suggestions seriously.

Sincerely,
John Barrow

14th District Rep. Tom Graves is also in favor of a travel ban, and issued this statement:

My prayers today are with the two Dallas nurses who put themselves at risk in order to help a patient with Ebola. They represent the best of America’s dedicated health care professionals.

Now, Americans are asking how Ebola could spread in our country, why a nurse with symptoms was given permission to board a commercial flight, and why the strictest, safest protocols were not followed. It is disturbing to consider that it only took one Liberian, without symptoms when he arrived in the United States, to start this dangerous chain of events. That fact raises questions about the effectiveness of entry screening and should cause the president to seriously consider banning travel to the United States by non-U.S. citizens from the affected Western African countries. I would support that action, in addition to other aggressive measures, if it means keeping Americans safe from Ebola.

From Third District Congressman Lynn Westmoreland:

Like many Americans, my concerns over the CDC’s handling of the Ebola outbreak in America are growing daily,” stated Westmoreland. “To this point, the response has been one step behind containing and eliminating the virus. When President Obama and Director Frieden made the decision to send troops to West Africa to risk their lives abroad, they should have shown equal force in combating the disease at home. The Ebola “swat team” the president called for last night should have been deployed weeks ago when the first patient came back to America.

The breach of protocol and lack of guidance provided for health care workers in Texas has caused the American people to lose faith in the government’s ability to contain the disease. While the CDC has many dedicated workers, they do not have a perfect record when it comes to keeping protocol and focusing on their underlying mission. The CDC has made multiple mistakes in the last year, such as the handling of Bird Flu (H5N1 influenza virus) and Anthrax and this situation has been no different. Their protocol needs to be seriously reexamined for any possible weaknesses, and they need to tighten up their training procedures so that not a single American healthcare worker or person is at risk.

I join many of my colleagues in requesting a travel ban that includes screening of visas from countries where the outbreak is occurring, specifically West Africa. What we are doing now is not enough and we need stronger leadership from CDC Director Frieden and President Obama to protect our citizens. Due to our nation’s advanced medicine and expertise to handle this appropriately, the threat of widespread outbreak in the US still remains low; however we must act quickly and carefully to destroy that threat completely.

Added by Charlie:

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, today called for restricted travel from Ebola-stricken nations in West Africa to the U.S. The senators issued the following statements:

“Given the recent spread of Ebola in the United States, I share the deep concerns expressed by many Georgians about the risk this deadly virus poses to our public health,” said Chambliss. “To contain this disease and help prevent any additional cases in our country, I support implementing travel restrictions from Ebola-affected nations in West Africa to the United States. I believe exceptions can and should be made for essential personnel to carry out our mission of stopping the spread of Ebola at the source. Our nation continues to face a growing array of threats from around the world and must remain vigilant; I urge the administration to put in place a proactive and carefully thought out plan to protect the American people from the spread of this virus.”

“As a member of the Senate health committee, I believe that, given the transmission of Ebola in Dallas that originated from a passenger flying from West Africa, we need to temporarily restrict nonessential travel to the United States from Ebola-affected countries,” said Isakson. “Additionally, I urge the president to take charge of coordinating and increasing the U.S. response to the growing threat of the Ebola virus to the American people. I take this situation very seriously and believe it is an urgent priority for the United States to contain this outbreak at its source, as well as to ensure that any additional cases that arise in the United States are quickly isolated.”

40 comments

  1. Blake says:

    David Scott “can’t for the life of” him understand why not? It’s pretty goddamn simple. If someone from an affected country wants to come to the U.S., they will. If you ban flights from their country, they will take a bus to a neighboring non-affected country and fly from there. When they are asked if they’ve been in an Ebola area, they will then lie. This will then defeat public health officials’ efforts to successfully track and contain the disease, putting more Americans at risk than if we simply let them travel from where they’re actually from and didn’t scare them into giving dishonest information.

    What is so freaking hard to understand about that? And why isn’t any politician out there saying “You know what? You have about 10,000 times higher a chance of dying of flu than of Ebola. So go get a flu shot and stop worrying.” God I am sick of the hack level of leadership in this country.

    • Noway says:

      So, don’t put any kind of barriers to entry to the US from those directly affected countries, Blake? No flight bans? Because they’ll just find another way in? Let’s not put the least bit of hinderance on potentially infected travelers from Monrovia to JFK? Really?! What about the dozen or so countries that have already instituted flight bans? Is that stupid on their part?

      • Ellynn says:

        No plane required… we can be invaded by ship!!!!

        It was reported at about 4:00 the US Coast Guard has a ship who’s last port was Nigeria on lock down on the Savannah River and the emails went flying here. It was on a standard Coast Guard custom inspection, but the level of panic was nuts for about an hour. Neigeria by the way has contained their spread and has had no new cases in about 3 weeks…

        Also at least 40% of all ships world wide have Liberian crews and are based out of Monrevia.

      • gcp says:

        Agree on a travel ban but I would limit it to anyone that has been in one of the three source countries in past 30 days. A close examination of passport shows where one has traveled.

        Would a couple slip through? Probably so, but it still needs to be done at least temporarily.

      • Blake says:

        Yes, Noway. No friggin’ flight bans. Not blanket ones. If a person is symptomatic, obviously, ban them, and get them in a containment area with treatment. And yes, it is stupid on the part of the countries that have already instituted them. When every single public health expert says the same thing, that it’s stupid, why wouldn’t we listen?

        As smarter people than I have already pointed out, Texas is a directly affected “country.” Shall we shut down all travel to and from there? OMG YOU WERE IN DALLAS YOU MIGHT HAVE EBOLA

      • Will Durant says:

        There are no direct flights from Monrovia to JFK, or to the US, period. Banning flights does nothing to prevent people from changing planes in other regions. It just isn’t that simple. Even utilizing visa stamps on passports or passports originating from the affected countries is not that simple. How do you treat those traveling who may be healthcare workers that have been trying to stem the outbreak at the source, diplomats traveling to the UN, or even our own military personnel now constructing field hospitals?

        • gcp says:

          You ban those holding passports from three source countries and those whose passport was stamped indicating travel in those three countries in past 30 days. Also no visas issued to residents of three countries.

          Healthcare and military either fly military or charter. Those few with diplomatic status are exempt.

          • tribeca says:

            Yeah, because it’s totally impossible to get into a country without getting a visa or passport stamp. Africa is totally known for it’s well-run border patrols and customs checkpoints.

            Banning air travel is a HORRIBLE idea from public health standpoint. Terminating outgoing flights discourages aid workers and healthcare professionals from traveling to affected countries. Preventing people from leaving via air means they’re going to leave via ground and will be insanely more difficult to track and monitor. In addition, it heightens the risk of the disease spreading to neighboring countries and hinders their ability to contain and track the disease within their borders.

            • gcp says:

              Somehow Senegal and Nigeria have been able minimize and/or eliminate new cases.

              As for health workers and military; charters and military aircraft.

              • tribeca says:

                Charters are insanely expensive, much more so than a commercial flight. That’s taking money away from supplies and actual on the ground care and wasting it on airfare. Much easier/cheaper solution is screening at departure points and arrival points.

                Honestly, the hysteria over a disease that is infecting two, TWO!!!!, of the over 318 million Americans is getting ridiculous. I understand Don Lemon needs to fill time in the mid-afternoon, but quit acting like this is a disease is something average Americans actually have a chance of catching. Ebola spreads through fluids. It’s not an airborne disease. The virus can only survive outside the body for a matter of hours. Unless you’re hanging around the bodily fluids of one of the .000000627109% of Americans currently suffering from Ebola, your chances of catching it here in the U.S. are effectively nonexistent. Let’s all calm down, and spend our weekends worrying about how the terrorists are going to murder us all in our sleep.

                • gcp says:

                  “hysteria” A ban would affect maybe 100 or 200 individuals per day; hardly a large number.

                  Charter cost? Comp the military for seats on military aircraft. Would not be excessively expensive.

                  My initial complaint was with CDC because they, as much as anyone created the “hysteria” through their lack of correct info. While travel restrictions are important; it’s certainly not the only issue.

                  • tribeca says:

                    So if a large number aren’t flying here, why are we shutting down flights? It’s a hatchet when a scalpel will do.

                    • gcp says:

                      A “hatchet” would involve thousands or more. I am advocating for a limited travel ban that would affect hundreds which would constitute a “scalpel.”

                  • Bobloblaw says:

                    “”A ban would affect maybe 100 or 200 individuals per day; hardly a large number.””

                    Youre joking right?? That is a huge number. It also tells ebola infected people that they shouldnt even try to come to the US.

        • Bobloblaw says:

          Ban passport holders.

          The reason the left doesnt want a ban, is because it would prove we can secure our borders if we wanted to. It destroy all arguments for Amnesty.

          They love the idea of Amnesty so much, they are willing to put American’s health and lives at risk.

    • Bobloblaw says:

      “” If you ban flights from their country, they will take a bus to a neighboring non-affected country and fly from there””

      One huge flaw in your liberal analysis (which I am sure you dont apply to things like guns), all the neighboring countries have CLOSED their borders with the three Ebola infected countries (it has been 100% effective too). You also miss the point that the ban would be on passport holders. So it doesnt matter if they arrive on a flight from Japan, theyd be turned away.

  2. gcp says:

    Agree with Westmoreland on the poor response from CDC and Frieden. Many errors such as proclaiming any hospital can handle Ebola, allowing an exposed nurse to fly and failure to provide adequate assistance to hospitals.

    Perhaps CDC needs a director and mission that focuses on “communicable diseases” rather than gun violence and overweight lesbians. With a budget of 6 to 7 billion they got more than enough money; they need to use it properly.

    Now if you want to talk about “hype” watch the silly police caravan escorting the patient to Emory. Sirens, blue lights..did they really need all that?

    • Ellynn says:

      It’s the NIH that ticks off extra fluffy lesbians and the NRA, which is under the control of the office of the Surgeon General… when the NRA lets congress vote for one…

      • gcp says:

        Perhaps you can explain how the heck they spend 6 to 7 billion a year because they sure were not ready for Ebola? And remember this is the same organization that let an armed contractor with an unknown criminal record near Obama.

        • Ellynn says:

          The nationally elected official in the state the CDC is based in like to keep the locals employed…?

          By the way, that was a private contractor that was armed. The CDC had a publically funded security unit ar one time, but some people in congress thought they could save money by letting the private sector do the job… sometime about the market place being more efficent or something.

          • gcp says:

            Been through the contractor issue before so I won’t argue that one again but 6 to 7 billion? What are they doing with that money? I know they got a very nice employee gym and I think they still got the CDC museum but my gosh, that’s a lot of money.

      • Ellynn says:

        Wait, correction NIH has it’s own director who ticks of the fluffy and the armed. The SG answers to the no. 2 of the Department of Health… and also is hated by the NRA… So my departments…

  3. saltycracker says:

    it is not the hysterical press that has seen, in a few short weeks, the head of the CDC (that many of us gave a vote of confidence in) going from we absolutely have this under control to well we are going to our best.

    The latest is not knowing or being able to test if a pet can pass it along on – like any communicable disease a lot of myths will fly but it is not panic but prudent to restrict travel from hot spots.

    • John Konop says:

      Salty,

      I heard over 50,000 Americans will die this year not getting flue shots….In our courty Ebola will not even be 1 percent of that I bet this year in America. Just saying….

      • gcp says:

        Incorrect information often leads to panic. If CDC and others would put out correct info you would greatly reduce the hysteria and over-reaction.

        • John Konop says:

          You may have a very valid point….it seems Shepard Smith at Fox got the story right….Part of the problem is all of us….train wreck stories get more views than rational discussions….Cable news thrives on train wreck spin….Best example was the missing plan story last year….CNN was spinning any BS they had, to get people to watch…..You would have this breaking lead….stay tuned….next hot air BS….I saw a funny clip on Jon Stewart show about it.,..I watch very little cable news now….I cannot take the spin….the only show I watch regularly is morning joe….like the PP it attempts to get all perspectives….and calls out BS quickly….

      • saltycracker says:

        Not a believer in being cavalier or a hypochondriac, just living by the statistical odds and common sense. I’ve never been sick, don’t worry about it, but still get my shots and ask sick people to stay home.
        Containment until we get it sorted out is a touch smarter than the “it was gonna get here anyway” fatalist. 1% means you have to start somewhere.
        Ebola is not on my list of concerns but our handling so far is.

        • Will Durant says:

          In a perfect world disease should be a medical battle and not a political one. The hysteria quotient can go to 11 in a heartbeat when fanned by political hot air. Holding blame assignment committee hearings accomplishes very little though. Especially when politicians are spouting woulda, shoulda, couldas involving overly simplistic solutions to complex problems.

  4. GOP: Kills Virus on Contact.

    Where was the president on the issue a week ago? pft Where were THEY a week ago?

    I am all up for total isolation anyway, including all troops deployed globally. But that’s just silly old me typing.

    Of course we have the Creator to thank for this blessing. Let us bow our heads and listen to our organs liquify…

    too soon?

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