Barack Obama has hinted at possible policy shifts in US efforts to contain Ebola, revealing he is considering fresh leadership to co-ordinate the federal response and is open to implementing travel bans if expert advice on its merits were to shift.
Speaking to reporters at the White House after his second two-hour meeting with advisers in as many days, the president also said extra disease control specialists were being sent to Ohio amid fears that a second nurse infected with the disease may have been contagious for longer than originally suspected.
“It is very important that we are monitoring and tracking anyone who was in close proximity to this second nurse,” said Obama, who earlier spoke with the Ohio governor about sending more experts from the Centers for Disease Control to the Cleveland area.
Amber Vinson, the second nurse to be diagnosed with Ebola, may have become ill as early as last Friday when she flew on a commercial flight from Dallas to Ohio, a health official said on Thursday.
Dr Chris Braden of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said at a press conference in Ohio on Thursday that the agency may expand its investigation to include passengers aboard her flight into Cleveland on 10 October.
“We had started to look at the possibility that she had symptoms going back as far as Saturday,” Braden said. “But some more information that’s come through just recently would say that we can’t rule out the fact that she might have had the start of her illness on Friday.”
Concern over the federal handling of the crisis, which began in Dallas last month, has grown sharply in recent days and put the administration under pressure to reassure the American public that further infections can be prevented.
Despite insisting earlier in the week that the various federal agencies responding to the crisis were co-ordinating well, the White House now acknowledges it may need an “Ebola tsar” to oversee the US response.
“It may be appropriate for me to appoint an additional person,” said Obama after his Thursday evening meeting with health secretary Sylvia Burwell, National Security Advisor Susan Rice and Lisa Monaco, assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.
“Not because these three haven’t been doing an outstanding job but [because] they are also responsible for a whole bunch of other stuff,” he explained. “After this initial surge of activity, we may have a more regular person.. to make sure we’re crossing all the Ts and dotting all the Is.”
But the biggest political u-turn may come over the vexed question of travel restrictions on passengers arriving from countries in west Africa where Ebola is most common, something Republicans have been demanding the White House reconsider.
The president insisted his advice.…READ MORE…