U.S. President Barack Obama said he remains reluctant to ban travel from the countries in West Africa where Ebola has killed more than 4,500 people because such a step “could actually make the situation worse.”
Obama used his weekly address to the nation to discuss Ebola, capping a week that included canceled campaign events, emergency meetings and the appointment of an administration official to coordinate response to the disease.
Republicans and some Democrats in Congress are pressing Obama to prohibit entry to travelers from the region after a Liberian man was diagnosed with Ebola shortly after arriving in the U.S. Two nurses who helped treat him in Dallas were infected, causing fear of an outbreak in the country.
“We can’t just cut ourselves off from West Africa, where this disease is raging,” Obama said in his address. “Trying to seal off an entire region of the world — if that were even possible — could actually make the situation worse” by causing people to evade screening.
Obama again sought to reassure the public that Ebola was difficult to catch and the likelihood of an epidemic was low.
“I’ve met with an Ebola patient who recovered, right in the Oval Office,” he said. “And I’m fine.”
After canceling two days of campaign events, Obama yesterday appointed Ron Klain, a former chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden, as the administration’s Ebola response coordinator amid increasing concern from the public about whether the government is equipped to prevent an outbreak.
As part of the administration effort, Obama also plans to assign senior personnel to serve on the ground in Dallas, including an experienced FEMA coordinator and a White House liaison, to make sure all of the region’s needs are being met, according to a White House statement yesterday.
In his address, Obama said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deployed staff to Dallas where both nurses worked, and to Cleveland, where one of them traveled before becoming sick. He also highlighted new airport screening measures for people arriving from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, where the disease has struck hardest.
Obama, who this week authorized the Defense Department to mobilize military reserve troops to assist with prevention efforts in West Africa, said fighting Ebola at its source remained key.
“Before this is over, we may see more isolated cases here in America,” he said. “But we know how to wage this fight.”
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