President Obama said Wednesday evening that he directed the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to create a “SWAT team” to be ready to deploy anywhere in the country to help local healthcare systems respond to any Ebola cases.
“As soon as someone is diagnosed with Ebola, we want a rapid response team, a SWAT team, essentially, from the CDC to be on the ground as quickly as possible, hopefully within 24 hours, so they are taking the local hospital step by step through exactly what needs to be done,” Obama said after meeting with top health officials at the White House.
At the same time, Obama assured Americans once again that the risk of a widespread Ebola outbreak in the U.S. remains very low and that the best way to prevent its spread is to control the outbreak in West Africa.
“It is very important for us to understand that the investment we make in helping Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea deal with this problem is an investment in our own public health,” he said.
The president also talked via videoconference Wednesday with the leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Italy about stepping up the international response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
Obama postponed a campaign trip to New Jersey and Connecticut to hold the meeting with top officials to ensure that the federal government is deploying all its resources on Ebola, the White House said.
The postponement came after the CDC announced that a second healthcare worker had contracted the deadly virus while caring for a patient at a Dallas hospital. The CDC has said there was a breach in protocol that may have affected other healthcare workers.
Obama has called on the CDC to investigate the cause of the breach, while also tightening protocols and improving preparation at hospitals around the country. The news of a second infected worker increased the pressure on the administration to respond more aggressively.
The new diagnosis “indicates the seriousness of this situation, and the president believed it was important to convene the senior members of his team who are responsible for coordinating this response,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
Earnest announced the unusual schedule change just hours before Obama was to set out on his first public campaign appearance before the midterm elections.
He was scheduled to attend a rally for Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy in Bridgeport, Conn., as well as speak at a private fundraiser for Democratic Senate candidates in Union, N.J. It was unclear when Obama’s campaign stops would be rescheduled. Later, Obama also canceled trips that had been planned for Thursday.
Separately, the Pentagon said Wednesday that U.S. military personnel had finished building a structure that would hold a 25-bed containment ward for Ebola patients in Liberia, the West African country hardest hit by the deadly epidemic. Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters that healthcare workers should be able to staff the specialized facility by Oct. 21.
U.S. troops will begin building a second Ebola ward this week and aim to complete it by Nov. 1. A third unit may also be built.
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Times staff writer W.J. Hennigan contributed to this report.