CDC Director Doubles Down on Lack of Flight Restrictions From Ebola Stricken Countries

Katie Pavlich
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Posted: Oct 03, 2014 12:00 PM
CDC Director Doubles Down on Lack of Flight Restrictions From Ebola Stricken Countries

In light of the first case of Ebola in the United States emerging earlier this week after Thomas Duncan traveled to and from the country of Liberia to attend a funeral (and then knowing he was infected, lied on a medical form before hopping on a flight back), many people are asking why flight bans or restrictions to Ebola stricken countries have not been put in place. 

On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest essentially argued that because America has the ability to treat the disease, that it is unnecessary to implement travel restrictions in order to prevent it from coming here.

Speaking from the White House Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest dodged questions about why flights from countries with Ebola outbreaks are still being accepted to the United States. He did not detail any future plans to stop flights from those countries, or to track connections through Europe to those countries, despite the first case of Ebola showing up in the U.S. after a Liberian man went to a funeral in West Africa and then returned home to Dallas.

In his justification of the administration continuing to allow flights, Earnest argued that because people carrying Ebola don't have symptoms when they get on planes, there isn't a need to limit travel.

Earnest said Ebola will be handled through "rigorously applying medical procedures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control."

Now, CDC Director Tom Frieden is doubling down on the Obama administration's refusal to implement travel restrictions, arguing shutting down borders to Ebola stricken countries could make the situation worse and won't necessarily stop the deadly disease from spreading. What?

"I wish we could get to zero risk by sealing off the border. But we can’t. The only way we are going to get to zero risk in this country is by controlling it in Africa. Until that happens, Americans may come back with Ebola. Other people who have a right to return or a visa to enter may come back. People will go to third countries and come from there. Sealing them off – first off won’t work. Second off, it will backfire. Because if we can’t get help in there, then we’re not going to be able to stop the outbreak and ultimately we will end up at higher risk, not lower risk," he said. 

First, nobody is arguing flights carrying medical personnel should be banned in and out of West Africa. People who argue for flight restrictions are referring to flights that allow anyone from the U.S. to get on a plane and head to Liberia or other countries and then returning after filling out a less than effective medical screening form. The man with the case of Ebola in Dallas isn't a medical worker, he went over to attend a funeral and after helping a woman sick with the disease and came back to the U.S. anyway. Second, France, England and a slew of Africa countries have either restricted travel or sealed off borders to prevent the disease from spreading.

So how exactly is the CDC screening for Ebola before people leave West Africa for the U.S.? What preventative measures are being taken? As he said in the clip above, "We are doing very good temperature screening. That is, where it is going to be the most efficient. That is where they have a few hundred people leaving. We're using approved devices, trained staff checking every person who is leaving each of the three countries to see if they have a fever. [If you] screen people here, instead of a few hundred it would be a few hundred thousand, it would be inaccurate. And this is the way that we think we're going to be most effective at keeping people who are having a fever from getting on planes." 

There's just one huge problem with that. People can have Ebola and not show symptoms for days, just as the man in Dallas did. A reminder of the timeline.

According to the CDC, the patient being treated came back from Liberia after attending a funeral on September 19. The patient's symptoms started on September 24 and hospitalization began on September 28 in Dallas. Several family members to the patient may have been exposed. Because the patient did not get sick until four days after getting off the airplane, nobody who flew with the patient is at risk.

And finally, while the CDC says the other passengers on the same planes as Duncan were at no risk of catching the disease because he wasn't showing symptoms, the agency and airline are frantically trying to track down all of the passengers who were on those planes...for some reason.