President Obama called on Congress on Tuesday to approve an emergency spending package to fight the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and to help more U.S. hospitals and laboratories prepare for future cases that may come their way.
Speaking during a visit to the National Institutes of Health, Obama said the money is needed to stamp out the disease completely, even as the crisis has faded from the headlines.
“Every hot spot is an ember that, if not contained, can become a new fire,” Obama said. “We cannot let down our guard, even for a minute. And we can’t just fight this epidemic. We have to extinguish it.”
Obama is pushing for $6.18 billion in funding to continue ramping up readiness in American hospitals. Already, the federal government has increased capacity in U.S. hospitals from eight beds at three facilities to 53 beds at 35 designated treatment centers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Tuesday.
The White House is running a federal preparedness effort that includes equipping more labs to test for Ebola and completing early clinical trials for the first vaccine to treat the disease.
In a report to Obama on Tuesday, Ebola response coordinator Ron Klain said the country is far more prepared to cope with the deadly virus domestically and to squelch it at the source than it was two months ago, according to an administration official familiar with the closed-door meeting.
“This is an expensive enterprise,” Obama said Tuesday from the lab outside Washington. “That money is running out. We cannot beat Ebola without more funding. If we want other countries to keep stepping up, we will have to continue to lead the way.”
Obama’s quest for funding will not be easy. The package includes about $1.5 billion in contingency funds, which lawmakers could target in an effort to pare back proposed spending.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the White House remains concerned the money may not make it into the year-end spending bill being crafted in Congress.
Earnest said officials have been in close touch with lawmakers to lobby for the funding and that the White House considered Ebola a “top national security threat.” Still, it was unclear how far the White House is willing to go to fight for the funding. Earnest said Tuesday that the president was not prepared to issue a veto threat over the issue.
In his visit to the NIH, Obama praised researchers who published results from Phase 1 clinical trials of a possible Ebola vaccine. Drs. Francis Collins and Anthony Fauci are leading the research, according to the White House.
The vaccine could enter the testing phase in West Africa soon.
With the new treatment facilities in place, more than 80% of travelers from West Africa will enter the U.S. within 200 miles of a treatment center, officials said. Travelers who show signs of Ebola infection will be transported to these hospitals by ambulance.
The treatment centers have been designated by federal and state health officials as having the training and resources to provide complex treatment while minimizing risk to healthcare workers, according to the CDC.
The hospitals are in California, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C.