President Obama said Thursday evening that he may consider imposing a ban on travel to Ebola outbreak areas and appointing an Ebola “czar,” but that for now he is focused on screening travelers for the disease.
Obama said he is worried a travel ban may encourage sick people to hide their illness, resulting in “more cases rather than less.”
Still, Obama said he might consider it “if experts recommend it.”
And after the initial flurry of effort to contain Ebola has passed, Obama said, he also may think about naming one person to run the operation, rather than continuing to rely on the agency leaders and top advisors who are overseeing aspects of it.
“It may make sense for us to have one person to have a more regular process just to make sure that we’re crossing all the T’s and dotting all the I’s,” he said.
The remarks followed an Oval Office meeting with those point people, including National Security Advisor Susan Rice and Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The meeting was Obama’s second in as many days with top health officials as he steps up his public response to Ebola in an effort to alleviate Americans’ growing concerns about the deadly disease and health authorities’ ability to contain it.
Obama assembled the group after a contentious congressional hearing during which Frieden defended the CDC’s sometimes-faltering response to the three U.S. cases of Ebola.
The president, who skipped campaign trips to focus on the threat, also authorized the Department of Defense to send National Guard and reserve troops to West Africa in case they’re needed to respond to the Ebola crisis there. The U.S. had already said it would send as many as 4,000 military troops to give logistical support and build treatment centers.
Obama said he is calling other world leaders to ask them to increase their pledges of equipment and personnel, and making sure that the U.S. is getting all its workers on the ground as quickly as possible.
“The most important thing I can do for keeping the American people safe is for us to be able to deal with Ebola at the source, where you have a huge outbreak in West Africa,” Obama said.
Obama offered thoughts and prayers for the nurses who treated Ebola patient Thomas Duncan while he was in Dallas.
He also said his administration was monitoring at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas and the people who came in contact with Duncan there.
He said he spoke to both the Texas and Ohio governors to offer federal help, and that he would continue to talk to them in the weeks to come.
As more lawmakers call for a travel ban, including some Democrats, Obama said he wasn’t ruling out the idea but that he didn’t think a “flat-out travel ban” would be as effective as screening travelers and gathering their information so they can continue to be monitored.
A ban, he said, might encourage travelers to break up their trips to hide that they’ve been in an Ebola outbreak area.
“As a result,” he said, “we may end up getting less information about who has the disease.”
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