In the face of growing Republican calls for travel restrictions on Ebola-ravaged areas in West Africa, the Obama administration on Friday sought to reassure anxious Americans that current safeguards were enough to keep the deadly virus from gaining a foothold on U.S. soil.
In a rare White House briefing on Friday afternoon, top administration health, security and military personnel made it clear that no travel bans were being contemplated. They argued that such restrictions would make it harder to get volunteer medical personnel to Ebola-stricken countries if people wouldn’t be able to leave once after they arrive.
“Right now we believe those types of steps actually impede the response,” said Lisa Monaco, deputy national security adviser and assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism. “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.”
The administration’s push-back came as the nation’s latest Ebola scare landed only a few miles from the White House on Friday when an unidentified patient who recently traveled to Nigeria was admitted to Howard University Hospital in the District of Columbia with Ebola-like symptoms.
“In an abundance of caution, we have activated the appropriate infection control protocols, including isolating the patient,” hospital spokeswoman Kerry-Ann Hamilton said in a statement to local media. “Our medical team continues to evaluate and monitor progress in close collaboration with the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the Department of Health.”
By Friday evening, test results had not determined whether the patient would be the second confirmed case of Ebola diagnosed in the United States.
“At this time, there are no confirmed cases of Ebola at Howard University or in the District of Columbia,” Hamilton said in a statement.
Earlier Friday, another Ebola scare prompted the Cobb County Jail outside Atlanta to stop accepting inmates after a man arrested for driving under the influence developed a fever and told jail officials he had recently traveled to Africa. The inmate later tested negative for Ebola.
As cracks emerge in efforts to contain the disease in Africa, more Ebola discoveries and false alarms are expected nationwide. To date, 15 people have been tested for the virus in the U.S. But the first, and thus far only, person to be diagnosed with Ebola in America remains hospitalized in Dallas.
Thomas Eric Duncan is believed to have contracted the deadly virus after assisting a pregnant woman who had Ebola in his native Liberia, a West African nation struggling to contain the disease. After Duncan flew to the U.S., he began showing symptoms of the disease during a visit with relatives in Dallas. Those relatives are now confined to their apartment under a court-ordered quarantine.
On Friday, health officials in Texas said they’re closely monitoring 50 other people in the Dallas area who could develop Ebola. While 40 are considered “low risk” for contracting the virus, 10 of the 50 are thought to be “high risk” because of their closer contacts with Duncan and his relatives, said Texas Health Commissioner David Lakey.
It was the failure of Dallas hospital officials to isolate and treat Duncan on his initial visit that has fostered skepticism about America’s readiness to handle a widespread Ebola outbreak.