With close to 4,000 documented cases of Ebola worldwide recorded as of this weekend, according to the CDC, American officials are working to isolate and prevent the disease from spreading in the U.S.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry – whose state is currently handling the only confirmed case of Ebola diagnosed in the United States – announced a new task force Monday to handle the current Ebola outbreak and other infectious diseases in the future. Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian resident, is receiving treatment for the disease in Dallas.
“Today, I issued an executive order creating the Texas task force on infectious disease and response,” Perry said, adding that it will “enhance our ability to quickly and effectively halt the spread of infectious disease.”Perry, who is openly contemplating a presidential run in 2016, thanked the federal government for its resources and support. But he also criticized the federal government for allowing the case in the U.S. and suggested that better screening precautions be implemented at airports.
“There’s only so much that a state can do and many of the circumstances that lead to this,” he said. “Washington needs to take immediate steps to minimize” the risks of Ebola.
Perry argued for screening procedures at border crossing areas for people traveling to the U.S. from Ebola hot spots. He also suggested taking passengers’ temperatures to “prevent contagions from entering the country.”
After meeting with national security and health advisers on Monday, President Obama said during a press conference that the odds of an Ebola outbreak in the United States remain “extraordinarily low.” But he also noted that the administration would institute additional screening measures for people entering the United States.
“The bottom line is we know how to stop it and it’s not going to spread widely in the U.S.,” Center for Disease Control Dr. Thomas Frieden said Sunday. The White House is constantly reevaluating their response plans, officials said, and may even deploy CDC officials to airports to screen for the Ebola, Andrea Mitchell reported Sunday.
The disease – for which there is no cure – is ravaging Western African countries at an alarming rate. In Sierra Leone, a deadly record was set over the weekend with 121 deaths, the single deadliest day since the outbreak in Western Africa began in March.
Officials and the public are watching a handful of suspected and diagnosed cases in the United States.
Texas Health Commissioner David Lakey said Monday afternoon that it is a crucial week for Texas, as people who potentially had exposure to Ebola could begin to register symptoms.
“This is a very important week,” Lakey told reporters at a press briefing.
Jennifer Gates, a member of the Dallas city council who represents the district where Dallas’ Ebola patient was staying, said people in the neighborhood feel like they’ve been stigmatized by the diagnosis and subsequent Ebola scare.
“They’re feeling discriminated against,” she said during a Monday press briefing. “We’ve got some who have been turned away from job, turned away from retail locations.”
A young West African boy in Miami tested negative for the disease on Monday morning and officials assured the public that Ebola has not in fact reached Florida.
An NBC News freelancer – the fifth American to be diagnosed with Ebola – arrived at a Nebraska hospital on Monday morning and will receive treatment in isolation.
Doctors reported that he was being aggressively treated and believed he may have contracted the disease while disinfecting a car a patient had died in before joining the NBC News team. His treatment is different than others suffering from Ebola, because individualized therapy is key, the doctors said, not because Ebola is mutating.
In Dallas, the only individual to ever be diagnosed with Ebola on American soil, was determined to be stable on Monday afternoon, though he’s still in critical condition. Frieden said Sunday that the man is “fighting for his life.”
Others – like the NBC crew working with the diagnosed cameraman – are in isolation to prevent it spreading further and Ebola was recently ruled out as the cause of a Howard University patient’s illness.
With the “best public health infrastructure and the best doctors in the world, there is no country in the world better prepared than the United States to deal with” the Ebola crisis, White House advisor Dan Pfeiffer said on Sunday’s “Meet the Press.”
But Americans aren’t convinced: an Associated Press poll found that more than half the country lacks confidence that the government can protect their physical safety – and conservatives are seizing on that anxiety, calling for travel bans and other restrictions.
“We should stop accepting flights from countries that are Ebola stricken,” Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal said in a statement. “President Obama said it was ‘unlikely’ that Ebola would reach the U.S. Well, it has, and we need to protect our people.”
Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Ted Cruz of Texas echoed the calls for closed borders, too, while Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan suggested quarantining those visiting Ebola-stricken countries for 21 days, the longest incubation period the disease has.
The White House says they’re not considering a travel ban, and Center for Disease Control director Thomas Frieden said it wouldn’t work.
“Even if we tried to close the border, it wouldn’t work,” Frieden said on MSNBC on Friday. “People have a right to return, people transiting through could come in, and it would backfire because by isolating these countries will make it harder to help them.”
The U.S. initially said they’d send up to 3,000 soldiers, later growing that number to 4,000, though officials note that is the maximum number, not the estimated force they’ll send to Western Africa. They’ve also promised at least $100 million in aid.
Meanwhile, in Spain, a nurse treating an Ebola-infected Spanish missionary has herself become infected with the disease, the country’s health minister announced on Monday. Thirty other health care workers who came into contact with the patient are now being observed to make sure they don’t exhibit any symptoms. At a Monday press conference, Health Minister Ana Mato said the government was still “working to verify the exact source of contact” and ensure that proper quarantine protocols had been observed.