A top White House official said Friday that imposing a travel ban on flights between the United States and Ebola-ravaged nations in West Africa would only impede efforts to fight the virus, the latest sign that the Obama administration is not taking the advice of some in Congress who are demanding travel restrictions.
Lisa Monaco, assistant to the president for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, told reporters at the White House that officials don't favor a travel ban, even though at least one person has traveled back to the U.S. with the virus.
Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa Monaco speaks during a briefing on the US government's response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. Monaco said banning travel to that region of Africa would actually make it harder to fight the virus. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN
"We believe those types of steps actually impede the response," Monaco said on the idea of a travel ban. "They impede and slow down the ability of the United States and other international partners to actually get expertise and capabilities and equipment into the affected areas."
"As we've said and stressed from this podium and others, the most important and effective thing we can do is to control the epidemic at its source," she added.
Monaco was also asked why a one-way ban isn't imposed — one that would stop flights from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, but allow U.S. flights into those countries. But Monaco indicated that step isn't necessary because people are being screened for Ebola by Centers for Disease Control officials as they leave West Africa.
"CDC professionals actually have provided the assistance and the training and the advice to airport officials in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, and as a result of those measures… many, many people, dozens of people, have actually been stopped from traveling," she said.
Earlier in the day, State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said a travel ban would be "counterproductive," and said the U.S. and other countries must "engage" with Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. She also said doctors from those countries would soon be traveling to the United States for training.
Administration officials have said repeatedly over the last week that Ebola has little chance of spreading in the United States, in remarks that appear aimed at avoiding some of the panic that came with the news that Thomas Duncan was able to carry the virus into the country. Other reports of possible cases in Hawaii, Washington DC and now Maryland have fueled those fears.
"The United States is prepared to deal with this crisis, both at home and in the region," Monaco said. "Every Ebola outbreak over the past 40 years has been stopped. We know how to do this, and we will do it again."
Still, Monaco and other officials seemed unable to explain that confidence given the failures that allowed Duncan to enter the United States, and that allowed the Dallas hospital to send Duncan home the first time he showed up.
"Square the dissonance between your confidence and the fact that things don't seem to be working," one reporter asked. But faced with that question, Monaco said only that the strong U.S. health care infrastructure would handily defeat the virus.
"The American people should be confident for all the reasons that we have stated… and that is because the public health infrastructure we have here is so expert, is so extensive and is considerable," she said.
Later, Dr. Anthony Fauci with National Institutes of Health admitted that the Dallas hospital's initial steps to treat Duncan were "rocky." But he said even with these missteps, the hospital has isolated the patient and is tracking the people with which he came into contact.
Sylvia Burwell, secretary of Health and Human Services, acknowledged the errors at Dallas less directly by saying the hospital is "now handling the case with the protocols that we know control this disease."