President Barack Obama said Wednesday his administration will respond to new Ebola cases “in a much more aggressive way,” taking charge of the issue after a second Texas health care worker was diagnosed with the disease.
Obama scrapped plans to attend Democratic fund-raisers in New Jersey and Connecticut on Wednesday afternoon so that he could huddle with Cabinet members and officials who are leading the administration’s Ebola response.
The meeting came amid questions about how two health care workers could have contracted Ebola in a country said to have strict protocols in place — and with one of those Ebola victims having flown on a commercial jet Monday.
Afterward, the President sought to tamp down fears of of an outbreak of the disease within the United States — saying that he shook hands with, hugged and kissed nurses who’d treated an American doctor who contracted Ebola in Africa, and felt safe.
Obama acknowledged that even foolproof plans don’t work when local health care providers don’t know how to carry them out — and said his administration will make sure “certain local hospitals that may not have that experience are walked through that process as carefully as possible.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will have “SWAT teams” ready to send to hospitals where future cases are discovered, he said.
Obama has spoken with the heads of Japan, Germany, Italy, France and England to prod them to pump more resources into combating the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Doing so, he said, “is an investment in our own public health. It’s not simply charity.”
The heightened attention came as Republicans pummeled the president.
Rep. Tom Marino of Pennsylvania said the situation “is beginning to spiral out of control,” and said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden should resign.
“The reports my colleagues and I have received are utterly unacceptable and the information provided to the public has been cryptic and in some cases misleading,” Marino said. “This has provided a false sense of security to many of our citizens.”
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania said the United States should ban people who live in or have visited West Africa from entering the country.
House Speaker John Boehner said the United States should consider a travel ban “along with any other appropriate actions as doubts about the security of our air travel systems grow.”
“The administration must be able to assure Americans that we will stop the spread here at home,” Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said in a statement.
“We will continue to press the administration for better information about what steps will be taken to protect the American people, including our troops, from this deadly virus,” he said. “And we will work with the administration on appropriate policy options that will help stop the spread of this horrific disease both here in the United States and around the globe.”
State-level officials who’d insisted they had the situation under control changed their plans, as well.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry — lambasted by Democrats in his state for leaving on a trade mission to Europe this week — decided to scrap the last three days of his trip and return to his state Thursday to lead the state’s Ebola response in person.
Perry said Wednesday that he speaks daily with Dr. Brett Giroir, who heads an infectious disease task force that Perry formed earlier this month, and Dr. David Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services. Those two are helming the state’s efforts.
“This is the first time that our nation has had to deal with a threat such as this. Everyone working on this challenge — from the medical professionals at the bedside to the public health officials addressing containment of the infection — is working to end the threat posed by this disease,” Perry said in a statement.
“These individuals are keeping the health and safety of Texans and the needs of the patients as their most critical tasks,” he said. “Every relevant agency at the local, state and national levels is working to support these individuals.”