DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) — At a hearing in Dallas, the CDC continued to recommend that flights to and from Ebola stricken countries not be restricted. They claimed that doing so would make fighting the global outbreak more difficult.
Congressman Joe Barton of Texas believes the CDC is not treating the issue with the urgency it deserves, calling it a “public health issue.”
“It’s not an international diplomacy issue. It’s not a foreign policy issue. It’s not a civil rights issue. It’s a public health issue,” said Barton.
Barton believes that if the U.S. government treats Ebola as a public health issue, it would find a way to restrict flights from Ebola-stricken countries.
“If we were really treating this as a public health issue, why would we not immediately stop these flights, and on a case-by-case basis send equipment and people as necessary, and on a case-by-case basis allow people to come out?” asked Barton.
“Why do we have to have commercial flights that, under the best of screening procedures you’ve talked about, you’re almost guaranteed mathematically to miss some people? With due respect, I don’t accept that answer that we can’t stop flights simply because we need to get people in.”
Barton suggested that military or charter flights could be used to transport supplies and personnel into affected regions. But Dr. Toby Merlin, the director of the CDC’s Division of Preparedness and Emerging Infection, thinks the interruption to commercial travel could hinder efforts to curb the disease.
“Our experience has been that when there are interruptions in air travel, it impedes the public health response,” said Dr. Merlin. “Although there might be workarounds like military transport, that’s difficult and right now time is of the essence.”
Barton probed officials to determine who makes such decisions on banning flights from particular regions. But U.S. Congressman Michael Burgess believes a precedent has already been set to take such action.
“The President actually suspended air operations through the FAA into the airport in Israel for a while this summer while there was some bombing going on,” said Burgess. “We know that authority exists.”
Burgess stressed that Ebola is not a domestic disease like the pandemic flu. Instead, something must be done to prevent it from being “imported” into the U.S.
“You can only get Ebola if you go get it and bring it home,” said Burgess.
“We are already at a point where we believe that all stops need to pulled out in preventing the growth of the disease in Africa, and that’s what we need to focus on,” said Dr. Merlin. “Because the risk in this country will not be eliminated until we eliminate the spread of disease in Africa…We will not be safe until we stop the growth of that disease.”
Dr. Merlin believes that President Obama understands the urgency of the situation and has taken the message to the American public and United Nations that the time is now to contain Ebola.
Congressman Burgess disagrees.
“With all due respect, I don’t think the President has put a significant amount of importance on this. I’ve not heard the President say this is the time of zero defects, we’ve got to do everything perfectly…”
Rep Sheila Jackson Lee D-TX expressed concern that 80% of nurses across the country say that hospitals have not communicated to them any policy regarding potential admission of patients infected by Ebola; 85% say their hospital has not provided any education on Ebola; and one third say their hospital has insufficient supplies of eye shields, face protection, etc.
She asked Dr. Merlin what their plan is to address this issue.
Merlin said, “That is concerning and we will reach out to our state and local health departments and medical and hospital associations to see that these things are addressed. ”
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