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Marsha Blackburn to Newsmax: Ebola Hearing Shows US 'Not Prepared'

By    |   Thursday, 16 October 2014 09:55 PM

Rep. Marsha Blackburn told Newsmax she was so disgusted with the evasive answers Obama administration officials gave to a congressional committee on the response to the Ebola crisis that she is convinced "we are not prepared for this."

"The people who were sitting at the dais are not the ones making the decisions," the Tennessee Republican said Thursday. "They couldn't answer some of the basic questions, such as the ones on travel."

Virginia GOP Rep. Morgan Griffith said the House subcommittee hearing left him with the impression that "there are still a lot of questions" within the administration itself on how to deal with the crisis.

"While they tried to put a good face on it — saying 'we know this, we know that' — in reality there's still a lot of guessing going on," said Griffith, who stopped his re-election campaigning to attend the hearing of an oversight panel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Blackburn and Griffith were among the many committee members — Republicans and Democrats alike — who pelted officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other agencies with questions about how the Obama administration was addressing the Ebola crisis.

The legislators squared off with officials over the need to ban travel to West Africa, as well as to provide improved screening and better training for healthcare workers.

Blackburn called for a 21-day quarantine of people in the region before they could come to the United States.

"They think that not restricting travel helps them contain this," Blackburn told Newsmax. "It makes no sense to me. I guess it makes sense to them."

Hours later, however, President Barack Obama addressed the travel ban issue, saying that such a move would be less effective than those currently undertaken by health officials.

"I don't have a philosophical objection necessarily to a travel ban if that is the thing that is going to keep the American people safe," Obama said at an informal news conference at the White House. "But the problem is that in all of the discussions that I've had thus far with experts …, they say that a travel ban is less effective than the measures that we are currently instituting.

"And as a result, we may end up getting less information about who has the disease — and as a consequence, we could end up having more cases rather than less," Obama said.

At the hearing, CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden reiterated that longtime position.

"There's zero doubt in my mind that barring a mutation which changes it — which we don't think is likely — there will not be a large outbreak in the U.S.," he said. "We know how to control Ebola, even in this period."

The tense standoff with House members came as NIH announced that it would assume care for the first Texas nurse diagnosed with Ebola, moving her from Dallas to the agency's sprawling medical complex outside Washington.

Nina Pham, 26, contracted the virus while treating Thomas Eric Duncan, who died Oct. 8. he got the disease after helping a pregnant woman with Ebola in Liberia who later died.

Duncan, who was in his early 40s, left Liberia four days later to seek treatment in the United States. He did not tell screening officials that he had contact with someone who had Ebola.

Meanwhile, several schools in Ohio and Texas were closed Thursday after concerns that Amber Joy Vinson, 29, the second nurse who contracted Ebola from treating Duncan, had flown on an airplane with people tied to the schools.

Vinson, whom the CDC had cleared for travel from Cleveland to Dallas on Monday despite having a slight fever, was flown to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta late Wednesday for treatment.

Frieden told House members on Thursday that Vinson might have had Ebola since as early as Friday, when she left Texas for Ohio.

In his remarks, Obama also pledged support to Republican Govs. John Kasich of Ohio and Rick Perry of Texas in locating and evaluating anyone who might have been exposed the Ebola virus.

Meanwhile, Dallas County's top public health epidemiologist, Dr. Wendy Chung, confirmed that she spent time at Duncan's bedside at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital and that she might have been exposed to the virus.

Ebola has killed nearly 4,500 people in West Africa — primarily in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea — since March. The virus is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected person.

In their Newsmax interviews before President Obama spoke, Blackburn and Griffith slammed health officials over their inability to address the panel's most basic questions on how the administration is responding to the Ebola crisis.

"They're confident they can contain it," Griffith said. "I'm not, but they are.

"I hope that they're right, but I can't believe that they're very confident after having indicated they didn't think there was a chance of Ebola coming to the United States — and then it came," he added. "Two people don't make it a full-blown outbreak, but they were surprised by both of them."

Referring to the nearly 30 African countries that have banned travel from the Ebola-stricken region, Blackburn attacked Frieden's unwillingness to discuss how the administration would secure the nation's borders — particularly in South Texas — to stop those carrying the disease from entering the country.

She cited the Ivory Coast, which borders Liberia on the east.

"They have implemented a travel ban and they do not allow people from Liberia to enter into the Ivory Coast because of this," Blackburn told Newsmax. "And you look at other countries — Jamaica and different countries that are establishing travel bans — because they have heard that there are people trying to migrate through those countries to get into the U.S.

"It behooves us to secure our borders," she said. "They don’t want to restrict travel."

Overall, Blackburn said of the hearing: "This is just something where you've got to say: 'Come on. You guys get your act together and let's go to work on this.'

"We're here to work with them," she added. "We're here to protect the American people — and it was disappointing that they couldn't answer the questions.

"They knew we were going to have this hearing," Blackburn said. "They've known about this hearing for nearly two weeks."

On other fronts Thursday, more Republicans demanded that the White House ban travel, with oversight subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy sending a letter to President Obama detailing immediate steps that should be taken to stop Ebola from spreading in the United States.

Besides an immediate ban, the Pennsylvania congressman recommended a mandatory 21-day quarantine for any American who has treated an Ebola patient or who has traveled to West Africa and stepped-up training for healthcare and hospital workers.

"There remains confusion over the facts surrounding the cases of three known Ebola-infected patients, and contradictions about the administration’s authorities and responsibilities in controlling infectious disease outbreaks," Murphy said in his letter. "Furthermore, the current approach to protecting Americans has proven gaps."

Florida Rep. Dennis Ross said that he would propose legislation when the House reconvened after the Nov. 4 elections to ban travel and to suspend visas for those seeking to come to the United States from West Africa.

"Now that two of our healthcare workers have contracted the virus, I am putting my foot down," Ross said. "This legislation is a more serious approach to preventing Ebola from further infiltrating our homeland.

"Airport security screening is a complete smoke-and-mirror approach to the virus and Americans aren’t buying it."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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Rep. Marsha Blackburn told Newsmax she was so disgusted with the evasive answers Obama administration officials gave to a congressional committee on the response to the Ebola crisis that she is convinced we are not prepared for this.
blackburn, ebola, hearing, prepared
Thursday, 16 October 2014 09:55 PM
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