Thursday at a congressional subcommittee hearing on Ebola, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden was asked to respond to a claim he had allegedly made that a travel ban would hurt “fledgling democracies” and therefore hurt any effort to contain Ebola at the source.
Subcommittee chairman Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) pushed Frieden on offering an explanation, however, the CDC skirted a direct answer.
Partial transcript as follows:
MURPHY: Dr. Frieden, when we spoke on the phone the other day, you said you remain opposed to travel restrictions because in your words you said, “Cutting commercial ties — it would hurt fledgling democracies.” Now is this the opinion of CDC? Is this your opinion, or did someone also advise you within the administration, any other agencies, where did the opinion come from that that is of high importance?
FRIEDEN: My sole concern is to protect Americans. We can do that by continuing to take the steps we are taking here and —
MURPHY: Did someone advise you of that – someone outside of yourself that is the position to protect fledgling democracies?
FRIEDEN: My recollection of that conversation is that discussion was in the context of our ability to stop the epidemic at the source.
MURPHY: Well, we can get supplies and medical personnel into the Ebola hot zones and so stopping planes, and I heard you say this in multiple occasions that we have a thousand-plus persons a week coming to the United States from hot zones, am I correct on that — coming from those areas?
FRIEDEN: There are approximately 100 to 150 per day.
MURPHY: Thank you. OK, and the Duncan case has seriously impacted Dallas and northern Ohio. But what I don’t understand is if the administration insists on granting — bringing Ebola cases into the United States, clearly you have determined how many Ebola infection cases the U.S. public they can handle. The NIH can handle two of these beds. Do you know that number overall in this country — how many we can handle?
FRIEDEN: Our goal is no patients.
MURPHY: I understand, but as long as we don’t restrict travel and quarantining people and we’re not limiting their travel, we have a risk. And so the issues of surveillance and containment – I don’t understand it. And this is the question the American public is asking — why are we folks still allowing folks to come over here and why once they’re over here is there no quarantine?
FRIEDEN: Our fundamental mission is to protect Americans. Right now, we’re able to track everyone who comes in —
MURPHY: But you’re not stopping them from being around other people, doctor. I understand that, and I have a high respect for you. But even though they are not limited from travel. They’re not quarantined for 21 days. And they could show up with symptoms. They could bypass other questions Mr. Wagner referred to in the thermometers on there and this is what happened with the nurse that went to Cleveland. So I’m concerned here — is this the position of the administration that there will be no travel restrictions?
FRIEDEN: We will consider any options to better protect Americans.
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