Lawmakers sparred with the government’s top health officials on Thursday over whether the Obama administration should impose travel restrictions on Ebola-stricken countries in West Africa.
During a heated congressional hearing on Thursday, members of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight slammed Thomas Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others over the government’s unwillingness (at least so far) to ban travel from the infected regions.
"Administration officials still refuse to consider any travel restrictions for the more than 1,000 travelers a week entering the U.S. from Ebola hot zones," Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) said.
CDC officials and other health experts have repeatedly warned that banning travel to and from the West African countries would hinder their efforts to quell the outbreak of the deadly virus.
Still, after facing intense questioning from lawmakers, Frieden did not rule out the possibility of travel restrictions in the future, though he made clear that his agency did not think it would be helpful.
The CDC chief explained that the government currently has tabs on who is coming into the country from the region.
“If we tried to eliminate travel … we won't be able to check them for fever when they leave. We won't be able to check for fever when they arrive. We won't be able to take a detailed travel history. We won't be able to obtain detailed locating information to pass it to local public health officials,” Frieden said. The White House, as well as officials from the National Institutes of Health and Customs and Border Protection have also signaled that a travel ban would hinder the effort.
"It is easier to manage and control it when we know where people are coming from voluntarily and not trying to deceive us," said CBP official, John Wagner at the hearing.
Regardless, Republican lawmakers have been rallying around the idea of restricting travel in and out of the West African countries. House Speaker John Boehner released a statement earlier today urging the president to “absolutely consider” a travel ban.
Meanwhile, other GOP lawmakers like Rep. Ed Royce, R-CA have called on the State Department to cease issuing visas to travelers from West Africa and Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL) said that he plans to introduce a measure restricting flights when Congress returns to Washington after the midterm elections.
The idea of a travel ban seems to be gaining traction with the public. According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, nearly two-thirds of Americans support travel restrictions on people entering the United States from countries infested with Ebola.
The congressional hearing comes just one day the second nurse from Dallas-based Texas Presbyterian Hospital was diagnosed with Ebola, after treating Thomas Eric Duncan, the first Ebola patient to die in the USA.
The botched handling of Duncan’s case—in which health care workers were not initially wearing proper protection while treating the patient—have caused great concern among the public and health officials over the United States’ preparedness for a potential outbreak at home.
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