Could An Ebola Travel Ban Even Work? US Health Officials Cast Doubt As Demands For Travel Ban Grow

Healthcare workers who treated Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan before his death have officially been restricted from travel. The restriction was issued this week from the Texas State Health Agency and Dallas County Officials, and will remain in effect until the 21-day-incubation period has ended.

Now some politicians have called for a ban to West African countries and to the United States from those countries. House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, urged President Obama to consider the travel ban.

“A temporary ban on travel to the United States from countries afflicted with the virus is something that the president should absolutely consider along with any other appropriate actions as doubts about the security of our air travel systems grow.”

Boehner is not the only politician to demand a travel ban. Texas Governor Rick Perry, in whose state the only two cases of Ebola contracted in the United States originate, has also called for a ban. The fact that the most vocal calls have been from Republican politicians may lead one to chalk these demands up to political theater, but Democrats have been demanding a travel ban as well. According to the Washington Post, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N. Carolina), and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) have all joined demands for a travel ban on countries hardest hit by the West African Ebola epidemic.

The travel ban demand isn’t limited to politicians. In recent a Washington Post-ABC News poll, 67 percent of Americans support travel restrictions on people who have recently been to countries affected by the Ebola virus.

So far, the Obama administration and the CDC have been reluctant to institute a travel ban. CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said a travel ban will delay aid resources and workers getting in and out of the region, making it difficult to halt the progress of the Ebola epidemic.

There are no direct flights from any West African country to the United States. Passengers coming from those countries typically travel through Europe. Thomas Eric Duncan flew from Liberia (where he contracted Ebola) to Brussels to Washington Dulles Airport before finally arriving in Dallas.

Currently, there are only two countries outside of West Africa with cases of Ebola: Spain and the United States. This is likely because there are already restrictions on people attempting to travel who are exhibiting signs of Ebola. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest says that passengers from West African countries are already screened once before they leave West Africa and again when they arrive here. This process isn’t perfect, as some passengers infected with Ebola not showing symptoms may be allowed through. Passengers may also lie about exposure, as Liberian officials say Thomas Duncan did.

Meanwhile, the Texas Ebola travel ban affects nearly 100 people and restricts travel by mass transit (bus, airplane, ship, etc.), preventing them from going to movie theaters, restaurants, grocery stores, or anywhere people might congregate.