GREENVILLE, North Carolina — Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said he fears the rapidly escalating Ebola crisis could become a “worldwide pandemic” and criticized President Obama for failing to forcefully confront it.
“They’re downplaying and underplaying the risk of this,” Paul said in an interview with Breitbart News backstage at an event where he endorsed Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) for re-election.
“They keep emphasizing that it’s so hard to transmit. Well if it’s so hard to transmit why are doctors getting it with masks, gloves, boots and hats–the whole works?” he asked.
“Could we have a worldwide pandemic? The Spanish flu in 1918 killed 21 million people, the plague in the 14th century killed 25 million people; I’m not saying that’s going to happen, I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I think we should have travel restrictions at this point in time coming from Africa,” Paul added.
Wednesday evening, the first Ebola patient in the U.S. was identified as Thomas Eric Duncan. Since then, questions have arisen about how Duncan got into the United States–and why President Obama’s administration has not, pursuant to sections of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and other federal law, taken additional steps to protect Americans from this virus.
“The head of the CDC a month ago was saying it’s no big deal and that we needed to still have this conference that they were having in New York, but it’s like well gosh can we have a conference delayed for a couple months? If this thing takes off in a big city or God forbid our marines get it on a ship, all you got to do is if you’ve ever been on a Carnival cruise line and seen a virus spread on a Carnival cruise line, imagine what it’d be like on our military ships,” Paul said.
Tom Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said Friday on CNN that restricting travel to slow the spread of Ebola to the U.S. would “backfire.”
“Even if we tried to close the border, it wouldn’t work,” Frieden said. “People have a right to return. People transiting through could come in. And it would backfire, because by isolating these countries, it’ll make it harder to help them, it will spread more there and we’d be more likely to be exposed here.”
Paul said he’s not clear on the how exactly the travel restrictions should be implemented, whether a complete ban on traveling between the U.S. and countries in the Ebola “hot spot,” or additional screening of passengers.
Jessica Vaughan, an expert at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), said, “People have to have not had contact with an infected person for 21 days and that’s not happening–there was one member of Congress who had asked for a total travel ban to and from these countries and that’s the most aggressive approach we could do, say we are simply not going to admit people who have been in these countries in the last three months.”
“If you don’t want to do that, you could do other things like requiring a physician’s clearance and work with that physician and people have to show they haven’t been in touch with someone for 21 days and are fever-free for 21 days,” she added.
“We’ve done that with some of these other diseases in the past-and the way they do that is every visa issuing post has local doctors that they work with who will screen people who get immigrant visas to make sure they don’t have tuberculosis or leprosy or other diseases. You could similarly require that people who want to travel here on visitor’s visas go through a medical screening and put the burden of proof on the traveler to show they are not infected and are not carrying the disease,” Vaughan said.
Since the interview, panic has spread about others who are suspected to have come in contact with Duncan–including school children in the Dallas area–and a person in Washington, D.C., is being treated for Ebola-like symptoms as of Friday. An inmate in a Georgia prison is being tested right now, and an NBC News cameraman in Liberia on assignment tested positive and will be flown home to the U.S. for treatment.
Members of Congress have grappled with the question of whether or not there should be a complete travel ban to or from the West African nations with Ebola outbreaks–most are calling for extra screening and some restrictions and precautions.
The Obama administration needs “to put together one real quickly, and I hope they do have a plan that’s not been made public,” Rep. Walter Jones said in an interview with Breitbart News. “But at this point I hope they are ahead of the problem instead of waiting for the problem to become an epidemic in our country. As long as you got people flying in and out of this country, it [an epidemic] is a possibility, just like the gentleman who came in who is sick now in Texas. How do we know who’s coming in on the planes? I’m not an alarmist but I do know one thing about it: When you’ve got from a certain part of the world an epidemic then you need to be careful and something I’m going to tell you is I think you need to screen people. I really do.”
Sen. Rob Portman was unclear when asked on CNN multiple times by the anchor whether there should be a complete travel ban.
“I think in general we need to be more aggressive in addressing this and I’ve called for that in the past month, and at a minimum, let’s do active screening,” Portman said. “As you know, we are not acting in a way that we should be in terms of asking passengers where they have been, where whether they’ve been in contact with someone who’s had Ebola, and that’s one reason we’re having the issues that we’re having. So, right now it’s what’s called a passive questioning. If someone exhibits the symptoms, then the Customs and Border Patrol folks are allowed to take them aside, but it should be more robust. I don’t understand, frankly, why the CDC isn’t insisting on that and directing our Customs and Border Patrol folks to do that.”
Asked a second time whether he would support a travel ban, Portman said “that’s something we ought to look at,” adding, “I do think the countries in west Africa have a strong interest in ensuring that there are adequate exit screening and that they’re working with us to avoid issues on those flights, because for their economy this would be a huge problem, but I think that’s something we’re going to have to look at because if we don’t get more serious about this it will spread.”