President Barack Obama said Ebola in the United States is not an outbreak and urged the public to be “guided by the science,” in his weekly address Saturday. The message follows the first U.S. Ebola cases to be contracted outside of West Africa. Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital nurses Nina Pham and Amber Joy Vinson contracted the virus after treating Thomas Eric Duncan, who passed away from the disease.
“First, what we’re seeing now is not an “outbreak” or an “epidemic” of Ebola in America. We’re a nation of more than 300 million people. To date, we’ve seen three cases of Ebola diagnosed here-the man who contracted the disease in Liberia, came here and sadly died; the two courageous nurses who were infected while they were treating him. Our thoughts and our prayers are with them, and we’re doing everything we can to give them the best care possible. Now, even one infection is too many. At the same time, we have to keep this in perspective. As our public health experts point out, every year thousands of Americans die from the flu,” said Obama in the address.
The president mentioned the difficulty of contracting Ebola, saying an individual has to be in direct contact with body fluids on an individual already showing symptoms, and his previous meetings with nurses and Kent Brantly, the doctor who contracted Ebola in Liberia and was cured of the infection.
Obama also outlined new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocols which include additional personnel, “Ebola rapid response teams” and airport screenings. The new Ebola response crew was likened to a “SWAT” team by White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest. “The team would provide in-person, expert support and training on infection control, healthcare safety, medical treatment, contact tracing, waste and decontamination, public education and other issues,” said Earnest in a Q&A published Friday.
Ron Klain, a two-time vice presidential chief of staff, was named the Ebola “czar” and will oversee the government’s response to the virus. There are also federal orders to increase the production of Ebola cures such as ZMapp.
There are no plans to ban or prevent air travel to and from West Africa, Obama said, citing safety and health concerns a travel restriction would cause. “Trying to seal off an entire region of the world-if that were even possible-could actually make the situation worse. It would make it harder to move health workers and supplies back and forth,” Obama said. Banning air travel could make it harder for officials to track the disease as individuals could lie during screenings or find alternate travel routes. Obama said there could be more Ebola cases in the U.S. and the only way to stop the spread of the virus is to stop it in West Africa.
Pham and Vinson are currently being treated at Emory University, the same hospital that treated Brantly and Nancy Writebol. A third, unnamed Ebola patient is also being treated at the hospital. A freelance NBC cameraman, Ashoka Mukpo, is being treated at Nebraska Medical Center. The nurses and other individuals who may have been in contact with Duncan at Texas Health are also being monitored.
Vinson traveled commercially after contracting the disease and the CDC is monitoring passengers on her flights between Dallas and Cleveland. A third individual that was in contact with Duncan is currently quarantined on a Carnival cruise ship.