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Obama: U.S. to Step Up Ebola Screening

Obama: U.S. to Step Up Ebola Screening

By Alexis Simendinger - October 7, 2014

President Obama said Monday he is monitoring the Ebola epidemic with continued urgency and announced the administration is preparing new transportation screening of passengers.

He said new screening requirements will include travelers leaving West African countries, as well as those arriving in the United States from affected regions.

Seven months after an Ebola outbreak began in Guinea and spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone, the administration continued to reject calls for a travel ban from Ebola-affected countries in Africa. During an afternoon meeting with nearly two dozen senior advisers, Cabinet officials and agency experts, Obama said they discussed ways to enhance airport screening for Ebola infection, but the administration declined to offer details.

“We’re … going to be working on protocols to do additional passenger screening both at the source and here in the United States,” the president said.

“We’re looking at all of the options,” Centers for Disease Control Director Thomas Friedan said on CNN immediately after the White House meeting. He said the administration had as its first priority the safety of Americans, but was wary of imposing new measures that “make it harder to stop the outbreak in West Africa.” The government has argued for weeks that commercial air transportation must remain open to and from West Africa to help get supplies and personnel to the affected regions.

Screening travelers has largely consisted of monitoring for symptoms of Ebola infection, such as fevers, and asking passengers to declare whether they have been in Ebola-ravaged regions. The disease is communicable from body fluids when a person develops symptoms, or after death.

On Monday, the first known case of Ebola that originated outside West Africa emerged in Spain. A nurse’s assistant who had treated a priest who died of the disease Sept. 25 was diagnosed with it. Thomas Duncan, an Ebola patient who flew to the United States in September from Liberia, remained in critical condition in a Dallas hospital. Forty-eight people Duncan came in contact with are being monitored by the CDC for symptoms of transmission.

The president said the rampaging epidemic in Africa and the international efforts to stop the virus at its source is a top “national security priority.”

He said the government wanted to get the best Ebola information and protocols to local and state health care workers, who are often on the front lines of seeing ill patients, but the least familiar with how to recognize and handle the rare virus, and unsure how to treat its lethal consequences.

Obama, seated between his White House homeland security adviser and the secretary of health and human services, said he would be “putting more pressure” on countries he said should be stepping in to help in West Africa but are not contributing.

Lisa Monaco, Obama’s adviser for counterterrorism and homeland security, is the lead coordinator for the administration’s multi-agency response to Ebola, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest clarified. 

“We’ve got some small countries that are punching above their weight on this, but we’ve got some large countries that aren’t doing enough,” Obama added. “We want to make sure that they understand that this is not a disease that’s going to discriminate and this is something that all of us have to be involved with.”

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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