On Thursday, President Barack Obama said instituting an Ebola travel ban would not help the United States more effectively contain the virus. He also indicated he may be open to appointing an Ebola “czar.”
“I don’t have a philosophical objection necessarily to a travel ban if that is the thing that is going to keep the American people safe,” Obama told reporters at the White House. “It is currently the judgment of all of those involved that a flat-out travel ban is not the best way to go.”
Obama said the problem is that “experts in the field” told him a “travel ban is less effective than the measures that we are currently instituting” like screening the 94% of passengers who arrive from West Africa.
“If we institute a travel ban instead of the protocols that we put in place now, history shows that there is a likelihood of increased avoidance,” he said, adding that under a travel ban people may not “readily disclose information” and engage in “broken travel,” where they break up their trip to hide that they were in one of the countries ravaged by Ebola. Obama said there could be “more cases rather than less” with a travel ban because the federal government may be “less likely to get information” from people entering the country.
Obama added that he was asking experts if what the administration is doing is “adequate in order to protect the American people,” and he said that “if they come back to me and say there is some additional things that we need to do, I assure you we will do it.”
“We will not hesitate to do what is necessary to maximize the chances that we avoid an outbreak here in the United States,” Obama said. He added that it is “important to look at the history of how these infectious diseases are best dealt with.”
Obama said the “most important thing that I can do for keeping the American people safe is for us to be able to deal with Ebola at the source.” He said the “United States is obviously leading the way in providing resources, equipment, and mobilizing the world community” in combating Ebola.
Obama said he understood “that people are worried” because Ebola is disease that is “new to our shores.” He said Americans are rightfully concerned about the “virulence of the disease” and the “way it is transmitted and the symptoms that occur.” Obama said it is “not an airborne” disease, and it is “not easy to catch.” He said Ebola will be contained if “we do what we need to do and stay focused,” but the work overseas will be tougher “because the epidemic is already raging over there.”
Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian immigrant who died last week after becoming the first person on U.S. soil to be diagnosed with Ebola and infecting at least two nurses who took care of him, entered the country on a visa he should not have received under questionable circumstances. The White House conceded earlier in the day that it is “likely” that more nurses at the Texas hospital will contract Ebola. Obama expressed “heartfelt concern to the two nurses” who “courageously treated Duncan,” saying that was “typical of what nurses do each and every day caring for us.”
A day after the House Homeland Security Chairs called for a temporary suspension of visas from West African nations until the Ebola outbreak is contained, Republicans at a House Ebola hearing pressed Centers for Disease Control head Tom Frieden about whether he had spoken to the White House about a potential travel ban. Hours before Obama addressed reporters, Frieden punted and did not give a straight answer when questioned by House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA).