Four Ebola quotes that may come back to haunt CDC’s Tom Frieden


Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is appearing before a House panel Thursday morning to meet congressional accusers who are prepared to use the public health official’s own words about Ebola against him. Here are some of the quotations that could come back to haunt Frieden during a politically charged grilling.

1) When Thomas Eric Duncan was first announced as having Ebola, Frieden took to airways to soothe an anxious public.

“I have no doubt that we’ll stop this in its tracks in the U.S.,” Frieden said at news conference on Sept. 30. “The bottom line here is that I have no doubt that we will control this importation, or this case, of Ebola so that it does not spread widely in this country.”


Unfortunately, it has spread to at least two nurses in Dallas who cared for Duncan, the Liberian man who died of Ebola at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital.

A close contact of one of the infected nurses, Nina Pham, is in in isolation, but he has not tested positive for the virus.

Texas officials are monitoring 48 people, including four family members and friends of Duncan’s who are in quarantine. Also being watched is a group of 76 healthcare workers in the hospital. And 132 passengers on a flight taken by Ebola nurse Amber Vinson are being questioned.

This is all far from an outbreak, but for some in Congress it is also far from stopping the spread in its tracks.

2) As word spread of the infection of the first nurse, Pham, Frieden was emphatic, saying his agency will investigate how someone in protective gear contracted Ebola.

“At some point there was a breach in protocol,” Frieden said. “That breach in protocol resulted in this infection.”


A few days later, amid a public outcry that he was “scapegoating” the nurse and her hospital, Frieden was forced to backtrack.

“My intention was not to suggest there was fault with the hospital or the healthcare worker,” he said.

3) Where to treat Ebola patients has always been an issue. Should major treatment facilities be the lead or can any hospital deal with cases?

Frieden insisted that any place was OK.

“Essentially any hospital in the country can safely take care of Ebola. You don’t need a special hospital to do it,” he said at one of the numerous news conferences he has given.

Yet it is becoming clear that smaller hospitals like Texas Health Presbyterian face special strains in coping with the problems of training, treatment and staffing. There is also the issue of how the hospital handled Duncan on Sept. 25, when he was released with antibiotics, only to return on Sept. 28 where he stayed in isolation until he died Oct. 8.

In the prepared remarks to be delivered before Congress, Dr. Daniel Varga, the chief clinical officer for Texas Health Resources, the medical group that oversees the hospital, said that “unfortunately, in our initial treatment of Mr. Duncan, despite our best intentions and a highly skilled medical team we made mistakes.”


4) Lastly, there is the question of Vinson’s flight to Ohio and back to Dallas when she was part of a group of 76 healthcare workers at the hospital that are being monitored for symptoms of Ebola.

Frieden said Vinson shouldn’t have flown because she helped care for Duncan.

“The CDC guidance in this setting outlines the need for what is called controlled movement,” Frieden said Wednesday. “That can include a charter plane, a car, but it does not include public transport.”

“We will from this moment forward ensure that no other individual who is being monitored for exposure undergoes travel in any way other than controlled movement,” he said.

But hours after the news conference, CDC officials appeared to back off.

Vinson contacted the agency Monday, before her return flight to Dallas on Frontier Airlines, reporting she had a low-grade fever of about 99.5, two degrees below what then was the agency’s threshold, 101.5, according to the agency. That mark was lowered by the agency Wednesday, to 100.4, still above Vinson’s reported fever level.

A member of a team of CDC officials consulted the agency’s guidelines and cleared her to fly home, according to a federal official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the Ebola outbreak in Dallas continues to be investigated.

“Since they were wearing protective equipment, they were in a category of unknown risk,” the federal official said.


There was no record of whether Vinson had informed the CDC that she was traveling to Ohio on Oct. 10, the official added.

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