Senior administration officials set out to convey a clear message to Americans Friday after the first U.S. case of Ebola was confirmed: we’ve got this.
Speaking to reporters in an unusual White House briefing, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa Monaco said every Ebola outbreak over the past 40 years has been stopped. “We know how to do this and we will do it again,” she said, flanked by public health, medical, military, and foreign assistance leaders. “With America’s leadership, I am confident, and President Obama is confident, that this epidemic will also be stopped.”
Officials repeatedly said they believe the system broadly worked in identifying and isolating Thomas Eric Duncan, who traveled to the U.S. from Liberia last month and tested positive for the disease earlier this week, despite several high-profile missteps, including Duncan being sent home from the hospital after presenting symptoms consistent with Ebola and potentially exposing additional individuals. Fifty individuals are now being monitored daily after coming into contact with Duncan, with 10 considered “high risk.” Four members of Duncan’s family have been quarantined by public health officials.
“There are things that did not go the way the way they should have,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “But there are a lot of things that went right.” Monaco said such confidence is due to the fact that “the public health infrastructure we have here is so expert, is so extensive and is considerable,” compared to the “opposite” in disease-torn West African nations.
That confidence comes even as Monaco and Fauci said they would not be surprised if other cases of Ebola made there way to the United States.”We have now seen one case, and it is entirely possible that we could see another case,” Monaco said. Already Friday there were several suspected cases of Ebola across the country, although officials emphasized how difficult it is to contract the disease.
“The key elements to that control and the prevention of outbreaks when Ebola rises in a community is to first identify cases, isolate them, care for them under conditions that protect the health care workers and, importantly, perform contact tracing,” Fauci said, referring to the practice of investigating all those who may have been in contact with the infected patient. “People in direct contact with a sick Ebola patient should be monitored for symptoms for at least 21 days. If no symptoms arise, the individual was cleared. If symptoms arise, the person is appropriately isolated and cared for. This formula has worked very well over many years.”
U.S. officials are stepping up education campaigns to hospitals, medical professionals, border agents, and airlines, as well as travelers, said Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell. “The Department of Homeland Security is in the process of advising all travelers returning to the U.S. from countries with Ebola outbreaks in West Africa to monitor their health for 21 days and to immediately seek medical help if any symptoms do develop,” she said.
But U.S. officials are not taking steps to restrict travel into or out of West Africa despite calls to do so from lawmakers on Capitol Hill Monaco said. “Right now we believe those types of steps actually impede the response,” she said, saying it would make it more difficult to send in aid.
As many as 4,000 U.S. troops may be deployed to West Africa to provide engineering and logistical assistance to help fight the disease there, while more than 100 medical professionals from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are on the ground. President Barack Obama phoned Gen. David M. Rodriguez, the commander of US Africa Command, for a briefing on the American military’s response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa Friday, according to the White House, and will be briefed again on the U.S. response on Monday. Monaco has been briefing the president on the outbreak daily as part of Obama’s daily national security briefing.