Washington – Louisiana Republicans here and in Baton Rouge on Thursday demanded a travel ban from Ebola-ravaged West Africa, calling it the only sure way to protect Americans from the virus’ deadly reach. Obama administration officials resisted.
In Baton Rouge, as Louisiana legislators were being briefed on Ebola preparedness, Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal said, “I continue to believe that the best way to stop the spread of Ebola in the United States is for the Obama administration to shut down flights coming into our country from Ebola-stricken countries.” Jindal would exempt health care professionals and relief workers.
In Washington, U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., a member of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce subcommittee that convened a Congressional hearing Thursday, also pressed for the officials to “immediately institute a travel ban until such time as they can firmly and scientifically prove that Americans are safe from having more Ebola patients come into the Untied States.”
Scalise, the U.S. House majority whip, was joined by other members of the subcommittee in support of banning travel from Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia and quarantining U.S. citizens arriving from there.
“People are scared,” said U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., the panel’s chairman. “People’s lives are at stake, and the response, so far, has been unacceptable.”
President Barack Obama met into the evening with top aides and health officials at the White House, declaring afterward that he had no “philosophical objection” to imposing a travel ban on West Africa but had been told by health and security experts that it would be less effective than measures already in place — and perhaps would be counterproductive. He said a ban could result in people trying to hide where they were coming from and, thus, becoming less likely to be screened.
In a conference call after the U.S. House subcommittee hearing, U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., supported a travel ban, saying it makes “total sense.” Cassidy is a Baton Rouge physician who has worked in Africa.
Cassidy, who is running to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu this fall, criticized the administration for its response to the disease and took a swipe at Landrieu for her support of Obama, a fellow Democrat.
“It’s clear that President Obama’s administration has been reactive, if you will, and not proactive in response to this crisis,” Cassidy said, from Louisiana. “It seems to be part of the broad narrative that the administration lacks leadership, and the senator whom I’m running against, frankly, enables the administration and our lack of leadership.”
U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., last week called for Congress to delay approving the administration’s request for $1 billion in additional funds to fight Ebola until the White House provides more information about its plans. In a letter to fellow senators, Vitter complained that the administration’s request “focuses on Africa.”
Cassidy, who said he had not read Vitter’s letter, said, “Treating the disease at the place from which it originates is ideal.”
Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas treated the first and, thus far, only three people diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S. Emory University Hospital’s Infectious Disease Unit in Atlanta and Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha have treated patients who were diagnosed before returning to America.
The Louisiana Legislature’s House Select Committee on Homeland Security also was briefed Thursday on this state’s preparedness, should a case be diagnosed here.
“What will happen if we get a case — the CDC (federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) will fly a team to that hospital immediately, and then some determination will be made,” said Kevin Davis, chief of the governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. “It might be better to take this patient to another type facility.”
Sean Prados, vice president at Louisiana Hospital Association, said hospital administrators and chief medical officers are being interviewed around the state to look at different scenarios.
Prados said there are only four hospitals in the U.S. that have the special isolation facilities that can handle Ebola cases, and none are in Louisiana. “So, we are looking at what are the alternatives if patients do present,” he said.
Louisiana hospitals have established plans and procedures to safely care for patients with infectious diseases, Prados said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.