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Friday, October 21, 2016

Washington (AFP) – Top U.S. health officials faced a grilling Thursday by lawmakers infuriated over the nation’s fumbling response to the Ebola outbreak, as the Obama administration scrambles to contain the disease’s spread.

Centers for Disease Control (CDC) director Thomas Frieden has become the most prominent target of the criticism, which has mounted as it emerged that a second Texas health care worker infected with the deadly disease was allowed to board a commercial flight despite reporting a low-grade fever.

Some lawmakers have demanded Frieden’s resignation and others have accused President Barack Obama of a lack of leadership.

Congressional leaders meanwhile are urging a travel ban to the United States on all citizens of the three West African nations hardest hit by the epidemic: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

“The stakes in this battle couldn’t be any higher,” Tim Murphy, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight, told a packed hearing with Frieden and other health experts.

“The trust and credibility of the administration and government are waning as the American public loses confidence each day with demonstrated failures of the current strategy,” he added.

Murphy, echoing other senior lawmakers like House Speaker John Boehner and Senator Marco Rubio, said he had “ongoing concern that administration officials still refuse to consider any travel restrictions” on people from West Africa entering the United States.

Some experts and lawmakers warned that isolating West Africa could further strain its health care resources.

Frieden and other officials acknowledged they still did not know how two Dallas nurses who treated a sick man contracted the virus, highlighting concerns about the government’s ability to prevent its spread.

But Frieden insisted authorities could keep the hemorrhagic virus at bay in America.

“We remain confident that Ebola is not a significant public health threat to the United States,” he told the panel.

“It is not transmitted easily, and it does not spread from people who are not ill.”

That statement offered little consolation to worried lawmakers.

“People are scared. We need all hands on deck. We need a strategy,” House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Fred Upton warned.

“People’s lives are at stake, and the response so far has been unacceptable.”

But some warned of the dangers of sparking hysteria among the public.

“We need to put all of this in perspective, and not panic,” House Democrat Henry Waxman told the panel.

The White House stressed that Obama, who cancelled political events Wednesday and Thursday in order to coordinate the U.S. Ebola response, maintained confidence in Frieden.

Nearly 4,500 people are known to have died from Ebola — mainly in West Africa — although Frieden cautioned the toll “may be substantially under-reported.”

While legislators insist there is no margin for error, mistakes in handling Ebola continued to crop up in the United States after a Liberian Ebola victim, Thomas Eric Duncan, was cared for in Texas.

“Unfortunately, in our initial treatment of Mr Duncan, despite our best intentions and a highly skilled medical team, we made mistakes,” said Daniel Varga, chief clinical officer of Texas Health Resources which runs the hospital where Duncan was treated.

A nurse who treated one of the sick caregivers accused Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital of failing to adequately prepare staff for handling Ebola cases prior to Duncan’s arrival.

“We never talked about Ebola and we probably should have,” nurse Brianna Aguirre told NBC’s Today show.

“They gave us an optional seminar to go to. Just informational, not hands on,” she added. “We were never told what to look for.”

Compounding concerns, the CDC allowed a health care worker who had been exposed to an Ebola patient to fly by commercial plane after she reported a low-grade fever.

Officials are now considering a travel ban in such cases, a source told AFP.

U.S. authorities began screening for Ebola on Thursday at the Washington area Dulles airport, Chicago’s O’Hare, Newark and Atlanta airports, after New York’s JFK began screening last week.

Together, the airports receive 94 percent of travelers from the Ebola-affected countries.

Frieden said the two U.S. transmissions showed the need “to strengthen the procedures for infection-control protocols.”

“It’s like fighting a forest fire: leave behind one burning ember, one case undetected, and the epidemic could re-ignite,” he said.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the first person to contract Ebola in the United States, Nina Pham, was “stable” and being transferred to the National Institutes of Health in Maryland for treatment.

AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm

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  • Independent1

    “A nurse who treated one of the sick caregivers accused Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital of failing to adequately prepare staff for handling Ebola cases prior to Duncan’s arrival.

    “We never talked about Ebola and we probably should have,” nurse Brianna Aguirre told NBC’sToday show. “They gave us an optional seminar to go to. Just informational, not hands on,” she added. “We were never told what to look for.”

    This breakdown by a Texas hospital is possibly just one example of why the Federal Agency for Health Care Research and Quality had rated Texas as having the worst health care delivery system in the nation for 2013. Texas is the last place in America were people with Ebola should be being sent for care.

    • JPHALL

      Unfortunately, other states have similar problems. Do not forget, every year people die in American hospitals because of mistakes. With Ebola, we can not afford mistakes.

      • Independent1

        Yes, there’s still a problem with people catching other illnesses while in a hospital or not being fully cured before they’re released. And although, there’s a long way to go with that, since ACA (Obamare) was enacted, that problem has been helped quite a bit; the readmission rates for hospitals in the states that have supported the implementation of ACA have come down over the past 3 years which has resulted in quite a number of less patients each year catching other illnesses and ending up needing to be readmitted where they’ve often been dying.

        The ACA legislation stipulates that hospitals will not be fully reimbursed for the costs they incur related to patients that have to be readmitted or who die from illness that they contracted while in the hospital. Because of this, many hospitals have tightened up their protocols to help prevent care givers and patients from contracting other illnesses; and hospital cleaning staffs are doing much better jobs in these hospitals to ensure that they are clean and disinfected.

        As I mentioned at the beginning, there’s still more that can be done; but ACA has pushed many hospitals across the country to improve the health care that they provide to Americans resulting in far fewer lives being lost the past several years that you described. I live on a small island off the coast of Maine, and the hospital on the mainland which provides health care for our island, prides itself in the fact that the cleaning staff of that hospital was recognized as having achieved the highest standard of cleanliness in the nation in 2014 for hospitals of its size.

  • sigrid28

    I watched a good portion of this hearing on C-span, not because I’m fearful but because I’m FURIOUS. For over a year I’ve been angry about short-sighted governors in Red states who refused Medicaid expansion, putting the health of millions at risk. I’m still enraged at the Republicans in Congress who did all they could to hamper the implementation of the ACA with repeals and finally their absurd law suit. Where are the defenders of the law suit these days? For years now I have resented the long-term consequences of the Sequester, forced on the country by Republicans in Congress, slashing budgets indiscriminately for the CDC and the NIH–and now we see the results. More recently, the nomination of a new Secretary of Health and Human Services has been held up by the Senate–because of Republicans. Now, after these same Republicans who have been doing everything in their power to undermine public health in the U.S., they have the nerve to wage a fear-mongering campaign about an Ebola epidemic. Representatives took a day out of their seven weeks of recess to attend today’s hearing, with Republicans brow-beating dedicated PUBLIC SERVANTS working day and night on a shoestring because do-nothing Republicans have refused to fund agencies they now expect to move heaven and earth to stop this thing–with the little sand shovel they have left them with, when what we really need for this job, metaphorically speaking, is industrial-sized earth-moving equipment.

    • Independent1

      I totally agree. It’s really galling that these totally clueless Republicans, people who have no comprehension for what they are really doing in Washington, in addition also have absolutely no shame when they’re confronted with the reality that it was their doing that has hindered our nation in having a better response to the Ebola outbreak.

  • Jorge Orwell

    Centralized bureaucrat control of access to medical care isn’t compassionate, it’s evil.