Politics

Obama on Ebola: Trust Us, We’ve Got This Under Control

Neil Munro White House Correspondent

The federal government has the Ebola outbreak under control, President Barack Obama told camera crews several hours after news broke that another American nurse has been infected with the deadly disease, possibly after a safety error at a Dallas hospital.

“I want people to understand that the dangers of you contracting Ebola, the dangers of a serious outbreak are extraordinarily low,” Obama told the cameras in a staged event at the end of a late-afternoon White House meeting.

“But we are taking this very seriously at the highest levels… and we are going to be able to manage this particular situation,” he said.

He tried to downplay public worries about errors that allowed two American hospital nurses in Dallas to be infected by a Liberian with Ebola who flew into the country on Sept. 20.

“The key thing to understand about this disease is these [hospital safety] protocols work,”

“We know that because they’ve been used for decades now… so if they’re done properly, they work,” he insisted.

Obama didn’t acknowledged the growing political pressure for a travel ban on people arriving from disease countries.

“We’re also going to be continually examining screening processes at airports… [and] making sure that in the event that we have additional cases [of disease-carrying travelers] that involve the need for transporting those patients to specialized hospitals, that those teams are in place and those facilities are in place,” he said.

In general, progressives oppose rules that give Americans a higher legal status than foreigners. For example, Obama respectfully referred to the Liberian by his name, “Mr. Duncan,” even though Duncan almost certainly suspected he was carried the deadly disease into a nation of 300 million Americans.

Obama also insisted today that scientists understand just how the little-understood disease is transmitted.

“Here’s what we know about Ebola,” he said.

“It is not like the flu. It is not airborne [and] the only way that a person can contract Ebola is by coming into direct contact with the bodily fluids of someone who is showing symptoms,” he said.

“In other words, if they don’t have symptoms, they are not contagious,” he insisted, three weeks after an infected Liberian flew into Dallas.

But there’s growing evidence that Ebola can infect people several feet away, especially in rooms where infected people are being treated.

Even Obama’s agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, acknowledge the three-feet danger from “Ebola Virus Disease.”

“A low risk exposure includes any of the following… close contact with EVD patients in health care facilities or community settings,” says a CDC “case definition” document.

But close contact is defined as “being within approximately three feet (one meter) of an EVD patient or within the patient’s room or care area for a prolonged period of time.”

Later in his speech, Obama tacitly recognized that his experts don’t fully understand the disease.

“We are reviewing every step of what’s happened since Mr. Duncan was initially brought into the hospital in Dallas so that we understand exactly where some of the problems may have occurred,” Obama said.

Also, there’s evidence that the disease can be transmitted by people who don’t show the normal symptom of elevated temperature.

“The largest study of the current outbreak found that in nearly 13 percent of ‘confirmed and probable’ cases in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and elsewhere, those infected did not have fevers,” reports an Oct. 12 article in the Los Angeles Times.

“The study, sponsored by the World Health Organization and published online late last month by the New England Journal of Medicine, analyzed data on 3,343 confirmed and 667 probable cases of Ebola,” the Times reported.

Also, some people can hold the disease for up to 42 days, according to the World Health Organization.

That’s twice the 21 days claimed by Obama’s deputies, and touted by the CDC’s “case definition” document.

“Recent studies conducted in West Africa have demonstrated that 95 percent of confirmed cases have an incubation period in the range of one to 21 days; 98 percent have an incubation period that falls within the one to 42 day interval,” said a Oct. 14 statement from the U.N. group.

“WHO is therefore confident that detection of no new cases, with active surveillance in place, throughout this 42-day period means that an Ebola outbreak is indeed over.”

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