Ebola Hearings: Travel Restrictions Debated

The Ebola crisis was the focus of a House Energy and Commerce Oversight Subcommittee in Congress on Thursday. Some lawmakers noted they were glad that President Barack Obama had opted to leave the campaign trail and remain in Washington, D.C. to “focus on the crisis.” The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) handling of the Ebola cases in Dallas was also a hotly debated topic. Travel restrictions to thwart the spread of the deadly virus were not left off the agenda either.

Budget stagnation “for more than a decade” was cited by some Democrats as the reason an Ebola vaccine has not yet been developed. As previously reported by The Inquisitr, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) blamed funding woes on the lack of vaccine progress. The NIH budget increased by $1 billion in fiscal year 2014. BioLink Genetics, a division of American-based company, BioProtection Systems, licensed the rights to a potential Ebola vaccine developed in Canada. The Ebola vaccine is currently undergoing human trials at Walter Reed. The Defense Department reportedly has a contract with BioProtection Systems.

During the Ebola congressional hearing, Representative Henry Waxman (Democrat from California) said America needs to “isolate patients” and monitor their contacts in order to stop the spread of Ebola in the United States. Representative Waxman also referenced the sequester as a factor in the Ebola crisis in America, and said those who voted for the measure need to answer for the consequences.

“Let’s point fingers at all of those responsible,” he said when referencing “irrational budget cuts.”

“We know how to control Ebola,” CDC Director Thomas Frieden told the House subcommittee. Frieden referenced protocols which require the isolation of patients and other security measures during his testimony before Congress. The CDC has come under fire for “missteps” which have occurred not only when Thomas Eric Duncan presented himself for treatment, but more recently when Dallas nurse Amber Vinson was given permission by the CDC to fly with a low-grade fever, according to Frieden.

The CDC director has Dr. Frieden has voiced his opposition to establishing travel restrictions from the Ebola outbreak zone on multiple occasions. Frieden also told the House Energy and Commerce Oversight Subcommittee that CDC posters detailing Ebola personal protection tactics have been sent to hospitals.

“There is a lot of legitimate concern about the cases in Dallas. Ebola spreads on by direct contact with infected patients’ bodily fluids. Our focus it to work 24/7 to protect Americans,” Dr. Frieden said during the Ebola congressional hearings. “Right we know who is coming in. If we stop travel then there is the possibility that some with attempt overland travel. Borders can be porous. We wouldn’t be able to check them for fever and symptoms when they arrive. We wouldn’t be able to invoke quarantine like we now can.”

Illinois Representative Jan Schakowsky (Democrat) questioned the protocols used when Thomas Duncan was being treated for Ebola. Representative Schakowsky stated that protective shoe coverings were not initially worn by nurses and care staff and some skin, particularly that around the neck area, was exposed. Dr. Frieden countered the statement by noting that while staff thought Duncan could have Ebola, the test results had not yet been returned. Representative Schakowsky asked the CDC director if he felt that staff should be told to wait until results arrived before using all precautions. He replied that such gear should have been worn and staffers are now doing so.

Tennessee Republican Representative Marsha Blackburn grilled Dr. Frieden on the safety procedures associated with the transportation and disposal of Ebola medical waste, the health risks prompted due to a “porous border,” and the exposure United States Military troops will have while in West Africa offering aid to Ebola victims.

Representative Michael Burgess (Republican from Texas) stated during his exchange with Dr. Frieden that Americans are concerned about travel restrictions, and therefore he favors putting such measures to a vote before the full body of Congress.

Do you think Ebola travel restrictions should be initiated?

[Image via: The Typewriter/Courtesy of John Shinkle/POLITICO]