President Barack Obama said he’s open to naming a single person as an Ebola czar to coordinate the U.S. domestic response and that the key to stemming the spread of the virus is battling it in West Africa.
Obama again rejected banning entry to the U.S. of people from the affected countries. While saying he has no “philosophical objection necessarily to a travel ban,” the president cited specialists in disease control as recommending against it because may lead to a worse outcome.
After the administration acknowledged lapses in handling the first U.S. cases, Obama said he’s mobilizing the federal government to contain any spread of the virus within the country’s borders.
“I understand that people are scared,” Obama said after meeting in the Oval Office with the top government officials coordinating the Ebola response. “It’s important for us to provide assurances to the public that folks are taking this very seriously, and they are.”
Republican lawmakers are criticizing the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s response to Ebola after a Liberian man visiting Dallas died of the disease last week and two nurses who treated him became the first people infected in the U.S.
Obama said he talked with the governors of Texas and Ohio about the Ebola cases. The second nurse who was infected traveled by commercial airliner to Cleveland and back to Dallas, and developed initial symptoms during the trip.
He said “there may have been problems” with how the protective gear for health workers was worn or was removed that led to the infections. “We don’t know yet exactly what happened.”
The government will take steps to track and monitor anyone who was close to the second nurse, he said.
Obama canceled a planned speech on the economy in Rhode Island and a political fundraiser in New York to stay in Washington today to meet with administration officials, confer with lawmakers and call other world leaders on Ebola.
The change in schedule signaled the administration’s “sense of urgency” in making sure the virus is contained, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.
Obama is focused on “getting answers to some very basic and direct questions about what happened in Dallas and what steps are being taken to correct those shortcomings that have cropped up,” Earnest told reporters today in Washington.
Obama also authorized the Defense Department to mobilize military reserve troops who may have special skills to assist operations countering Ebola in West Africa. The Pentagon has said it’s prepared to send as many as 4,000 personnel there.
To contact the reporters on this story: Toluse Olorunnipa in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org; Angela Greiling Keane in Washington at email@example.com. To contact the editors responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at firstname.lastname@example.org.