White House: We Won’t Stop People From Ebola-Stricken Countries Coming To US

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
Font Size:

White House spokesman Josh Earnest rebuffed questions Oct. 1 about a possible federal ban on travel from Ebola-stricken countries, and said the president will rely instead on government medical professionals to contain imported epidemics.

“These are the experts, they have a keen understanding of how to prevent the spread of this disease,” he said, adding “we can stop the spread of Ebola in its tracks.”

“What are the conditions under which the President would order or want to see travel restrictions?” asked one reporter.

“We are confident that the sophisticated medical infrastructure that exists here in the United States can prevent the wide spread of Ebola,” Earnest said.

“Doesn’t that imply that we’re willing to accept a certain number of people coming into this country who will be diagnosed and develop Ebola once they’re here?” the reporter asked.

“We live in a global world, and what we’re confident that we can do is to both protect the safety of the traveling public and … protect the broader American public by rigorously applying the kind of medical protocols that are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control,” Earnest replied.

The president picked a bad week for putting additional faith in government professionals.

Earnest spoke Oct. 1, shortly after he had announced the resignation of Julia Pierson, the veteran leader of the professional security agents in the United States Secret Service. Pierson’s resignation came after a series of high-profile security flubs had exposed the president to lethal attacks, and one day after Earnest said that Obama has full confidence in the secret service director.

Earnest’s statement also came only a few days after Obama has blamed mistakes by the professional intelligence officials for the U.S. failure to block the spread of the jihadis group in northern Iraq.

Earnest’s statement also came on the same day that officials announced a possible second case of Ebola in the country, following the unhindered arrival of a disease-carrier on Sept. 20th. The new victim may have contracted the disease after medical professionals sent the Ebola carrier home after a flawed medical check on Sept. 24.

The two Ebola cases may be politically damaging to Obama, partly because public confidence in Obama’s management has already fallen.

On Sept. 16, Obama minimized the danger of Ebola infections in the United States. “In the unlikely event that someone with Ebola does reach our shores, we’ve taken new measures so that we’re prepared here at home,” he said Sept. 16.

On Sept. 30, federal officials announced that the carrier had flown from Liberia into the United States on Sept. 20, and had began to show obvious symptoms of the disease on the 24th. Disease-carriers can transmit the disease once they have symptoms. But a person can be infected with the disease, and not show any symptoms, for up to 21 days.

The Liberian is now being treated in a Dallas hospital, and federal officials are trying to contact and monitor everyone — including several children — who were in contact with him. Additional travelers to the United States are likely, partly because U.S. health-centers are much better than African hospitals.

Earnest tried to downplay the president’s Sept. 16 “unlikely event” comment.

“You might be slightly over-parsing what the President said, because when he delivered those remarks there had been at least a couple of health care professionals who had been trying to provide medical services to Ebola victims in Africa who had been returned to the United States for treatment,” Earnest said at the Oct. 1 press conference. “So obviously these individuals who had contracted Ebola in the performance of their medical work were on the shores of the United States of America,” he claimed.

The State Department has given visas to roughly 13,500 people from the Ebola-stricken countries of Sierra Leon, Guinea and Liberia, according to federal data.

The data doesn’t show how many of those people are already in the United States, but visitors from those countries should be excluded until they can show they’re free of Ebola, said Jessica Vaughan, policy director at the Center for Immigration Studies.

“It would be reasonable to designate Ebola as a communicable disease of public health significance [because] that would enable the State Department to impose tighter restrictions on visitors” countries with Ebola outbreaks, she said.

Under current policies, only people with obvious symptoms — principally, a high temperature — are excluded by immigration officials.

Follow Neil on Twitter

Tags : ebola
Neil Munro