Update: An impromptu House Panel grilled Obama administration officials Thursday about failures to adequately control the spread of Ebola throughout the United States after several hospital workers were contaminated with the virus after treating an infected patient. The administration officials, however, did not rule out travel restrictions on persons traveling from Ebola hot zones in West Africa but questioning revealed that many of the administration officials had little more to offer congressional members who were asking if first responders were properly trained to handle possible patients with Ebola entering the nation via the border or air travel.
"We will consider any options to better protect Americans," said Thomas Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whose agency, is one among others, that has been criticized for not doing enough to proactively stop the spread of the virus in Dallas. He said, however, that a travel ban of would not be effective because travelers who are not allowed to come directly to the U.S. may try to come indirectly and the agency would therefore not be able to track them once they arrive.
Frieden also said that roughly 100 to 150 persons from Ebola infected countries enter the U.S. daily without quarantine.
Lisa Monaco (L), Homeland Security and Counterterrorism advisor, and Sylvia Burwell (C), Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, listen as US President Barack Obama pauses while making a statement for the press after a meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House October 15, 2014 in Washington, DC. Obama canceled campaign and fundraising travel for Democrats to attend the meeting about Ebola after a second case of the decease was contracted inside the United States. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
Frieden did not clarify to the panel if he was referring to illegal entry into the U.S. by persons leaving infected areas. The panel is planning a second hearing to discuss if the National Health Institute and CDC have the resources necessary to quarantine persons who are sick with Ebola and attempt to stop the spread of the contagion.
"We'll loose flexibility to monitor them for fever... and track them if they are ill," Frieden said.He said the most important thing for hospitals to do now is question anyone with a fever and ask them if they have traveled to West Africa within the last 21 days.
Dr. Daniel Varga, Chief Clinical Officer and Senior Vice President of Texas Health Resources which owns the hospital where two nurses, Nina Pham and Amber Vinson, were infected with Ebola while treating Thomas Eric Duncan, told members that the hospital is still investigating how the disease was transmitted.
Varga said his hospital was notified by the CDC in June about the procedures that needed to be taken when handling an Ebola patient but admitted that there was no actual on the job training when questioned by lawmakers.
Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations questioned Frieden about the travel ban, which the administration has said publicly could harm efforts to bring aid to West Africa.
Frieden repeated often to lawmakers questions with the same answer that his agency is "open to any possibility that will increase the safety of Americans."
"We remain confident that Ebola is not a significant public health threat to the United States," Frieden said in written testimony submitted for the hearing. "It is not transmitted easily, and it does not spread from people who are not ill, and cultural norms that contribute to the spread of the disease in Africa — such as burial customs and inadequate public health measures — are not a factor in the United States. We know Ebola can be stopped with rapid diagnosis, appropriate triage and meticulous infection-control practices in American hospitals."
On Wednesday, senior lawmakers were scrambling to keep up with information on the growing Ebola threat after a second person in Dallas was diagnosed with the deadly virus.
Several lawmakers told TheBlaze that they want answers as to why Obama administration and health officials failed to take extensive precautions immediately when evidence suggested that an Ebola outbreak was possible and why first responders have had ineffective training regarding the contagion.
The issue became more perilous Wednesday when it was reported that another nurse working in close proximity to Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan was diagnosed with the virus. Amber Vinson, 29 is the second nurse that treated Duncan to contract Ebola.
Complicating matters further, it was reported that Vinson took a roundtrip flight from Texas to Ohio after she provided care to the contagious Duncan, possibly exposing those with whom she came in contact during her trip. Information released by the health officials indicates Vinson was possibly symptomatic, registering a slight fever (99.5) on her return flight. The Centers For Disease Control is asking all 132 passengers on Frontier Airlines flight 1143 to report to the CDC.
CDC officials confirmed that Vinson, who lived in an apartment complex where four Blaze employees also reside, will be transferred from the Dallas hospital to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
Lawmakers say the failures in protocol disclosed by hospital staff need to be investigated. Deborah Burger, of the National Nurses United, held a press conference and revealed alarming allegations from hospital staff about the lack of safety measures, including that nurses lacked proper training to handle the situation. It was also alleged that medical workers were provided “non-impermeable” gowns as protection, and Duncan was in the emergency room with other patients for hours despite information that he had traveled from Ebola-stricken Liberia.
Some lawmakers are also calling on the administration for a travel ban on West African nations most impacted by the virus.
House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement that a "temporary ban on travel to the United States from countries afflicted with the virus is something that the president should absolutely consider along with any other appropriate actions as doubts about the security of our air travel systems grow."
House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) told reporters that the spread of Ebola in Dallas raises the question of "proper protocols." On "Face the Nation" this week, he suggested "temporarily suspending the 13,000 visas" held by people coming from West Africa, where Ebola is spreading quickly, should be an option on the table.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) told TheBlaze that it is unconscionable for CDC Director Thomas Frieden to blame Vinson for taking a flight after treating a patient with Ebola, when it was the nurses who were not properly trained to protect themselves from the virus.
"The same people who said if you like your health insurance and doctor, you can keep them, are telling us that Ebola is under control," Gohmert said. "The CDC says a nurse got Ebola when the protocols were violated, but failed to create the protocols, failed to provide the protocols, and can't say which of their non-existent protocols were violated. These CDC clowns can’t even tell us how the nurses got Ebola, so how can they possibly say that the nurses violated protocols?"
Gohmert said that at "least in football the referee has to tell you what rule you violated, but not the CDC."
The Texas congressman went on to say that the CDC is outraged, but "they condemn the latest nurse to get Ebola for traveling on a plane before she manifested Ebola while at the same time telling us limiting travel from countries with Ebola epidemics would not help but would actually do harm."
"Let’s face it: the President has his man he wants heading up the CDC who appears to be spearheading the war on women nurses," he added. "The new CDC motto: 'When the CDC looks incompetent, blame a female nurse.'"
Lawmakers also want to speak with healthcare workers about the questionable “precautions” surrounding Duncan’s care.
Numerous nurses who spoke to National Nurses United, the largest Union representing nurses in the United States, said that Texas Health Presbyterian turned Duncan away when he "first came into the hospital, he arrived with an elevated temperature, but was sent home."
The healthcare workers, who spoke on background to their union representatives, said when Duncan came back "he was brought in by ambulance under the suspicion from him and family members that he may have Ebola."
He was left for "several hours, not in isolation, in an area where other patients were present. No one knew what the protocols were or were able to verify what kind of personal protective equipment should be worn and there was no training. Subsequently a nurse supervisor arrived and demanded that he be moved to an isolation unit– yet faced resistance from other hospital authorities," noted the statement on the union website.
Further, lab specimens from Duncan "were sent through the hospital tube system without being specially sealed and hand delivered. The result is that the entire tube system by which all lab specimens are sent was potentially contaminated," the healthcare workers added.
This 2011 photo provided by Wilmot Chayee shows Thomas Eric Duncan at a wedding in Ghana. Duncan, who became the first patient diagnosed in the U.S with Ebola, has been kept in isolation at a hospital since Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014. He was listed in serious but stable condition. (AP Photo/Wilmot Chayee)
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, of Texas, whose state is ground zero for Ebola virus in the U.S., called for flight bans last week and sent a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration asking what precautions were being taken regarding on non-U.S. passengers traveling from countries significantly impacted by Ebola.
Cruz, who published an Op-ed Wednesday night in the Texas Tribune, told the Dallas Morning News last week that “common sense dictates that we should impose a travel ban on commercial airline flights from nations afflicted by Ebola. There’s no reason to allow ongoing commercial air traffic out of those countries.”
However, Cruz spokeswoman Amanda Carpenter told TheBlaze that the senator has yet to receive any answers to the letter in which he questioned what precautions were being taken by the airlines, airports and employees.
"The recent news is highly concerning," said Carpenter. "The most simple, most prudent thing we can do now is ban flights from Ebola-afflicted nations. Senator Cruz wrote a letter to the FAA 13 days ago asking what precautions are being taken at the agency to protect Americans from Ebola and still no answers have been given. The Obama administration needs to, immediately, take a serious leadership role in addressing this threat and banning flights is the most practical way to start."
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said the outbreak in Africa reaffirms his belief that the U.S. must work to help other nations develop a capacity to fight contagious illnesses.
“Here at home, we need to train doctors in what to look for, and strengthen our quarantine stations at the 20 busiest entry-points to the US. Finally, we must fund basic research for better treatments in the future as well as clinical trials for potential vaccines and therapies that are in the pipeline now. We cannot afford to let any potential vaccine be unexplored. This outbreak makes it clear that we should not allow the sequester cuts to come back next year. With Ebola on our shores, we must lift the sequester, not double down on it.”
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