President Obama will name Ron Klain as the country’s first-ever Ebola response coordinator on Friday, NBC News confirmed.
Klain is not a health care professional. Instead, he’s a longtime politico. The former chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden and before him Vice President Al Gore, Klain has a reputation for being a good manager with strong relationships on Capitol Hill and in the White House.
As the country struggles to contain the deadly virus, the move signals just how seriously the government is taking the outbreak after early protocol proved inadequate, leading two nurses to contract the disease while caring for an infected patient.
Klain’s appointment comes just as another health care worker being monitored for Ebola is discovered to be aboard a cruise ship this week. The passenger is deemed low risk — the person worked in a lab where Ebola samples were — but has been isolated “out of an abundance of caution” after consultation with the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Carnival Cruise Lines announced.
Carnival Cruise Lines was alerted to the passenger’s exposure by the CDC on Wednesday afternoon, four days after the passenger boarded. The news came just hours after a second Dallas health care worker was diagnosed with Ebola after flying on a commercial jet, prompting outrage that an exposed person was allowed to travel. In the wake of that diagnoses, the CDC vowed to prevent others exposed from traveling.
The president is expected to announce Klain’s appointment later in the day on Friday. “It may be appropriate for me to appoint an additional person,” the president said during press remarks on Thursday evening from the Oval Office. “So that after this initial surge of activity, we can have a more regular process just to make sure that we’re crossing all the T’s and dotting all the I’s going forward.”
With the cruise ship passenger, officials attempted to calm fears about the risk of transmission.
“At no point in time has the individual exhibited any symptoms or signs of infection and it has been 19 days since she was in the lab with the testing samples. She is deemed by CDC to be very low risk,” Carnival Cruise Line said in a statement. The passenger has already passed the common incubation period for developing Ebola, which is eight to 10 days, but the disease can incubate, symptom free, for as long as 21 days.
Like planes, the close quarters of cruise liners have historically made them a breeding ground for germs and illness. This spring, passengers and crew on three cruises contracted a gastrointestinal illness, leaving more than two hundred passengers and crew sick, affected by vomiting and diarrhea, the CDC said at the time. Carnival does not have any ships that visit Ebola hotspots, screens all passengers prior to boarding, and denies boarding to passengers or crew who have visited Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea within 21 days, the maximum incubation time for Ebola.
On the Hill, calls for travel bans
The White House gave the OK for the Pentagon to send reserve troops to West Africa to combat the Ebola outbreak at its source. On Friday morning, Secretary of State John Kerry announced the government would allocate an additional $1 billion to support American armed forces working there.
“We are using every instrument in American power to try and get this done,” he said of the West Africa outbreak, noting the U.S. was creating 17 more Ebola treatment centers. He called on the rest of the world to get actively involved in treating the epidemic.
“There is no country that is exempt from being able to do something to contribute to this effort,” he said, celebrating the countries who have already been involved. ”Cuba, a country of just 11 million people has sent 165 healthcare professionals and it plans to send nearly 300 more.”
Republicans have slammed the president’s response to the disease, pressing for a travel ban even as experts and the president say it would hurt efforts to curb West Africa’s outbreak, the worst in history.
Republican leaders including Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Floridia, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, and Gov. Bobby Jindal called for travel bans this week, just as nearly a dozen Republicans up for election next month also called for travel restrictions.
In a tense hearing on Thursday specially convened to talk Ebola, lawmakers called for travel bans as CDC head Tom Frieden attempted to assure members of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
“You’re right, it needs to be solved in Africa. But until it is, we should not be allowing these folks in, period,” the panel’s chairman, Michigan’s Rep. Fred Upton said.
The president and other officials have repeatedly said travel bans weren’t needed and that the U.S. knew how to combat the deadly virus, despite early lapses that led to two nurses’ infection.
“There’s zero doubt in my mind that barring a mutation which changes it — which we don’t think is likely — there will not be a large outbreak in the U.S.,” Frieden told lawmakers. “We know how to control Ebola, even in this period.”
Fear grows across the country
Thomas Eric Duncan, the first man to be diagnosed with Ebola inside the U.S. of the disease and the country’s second death from it, infected two of the nurses who cared for him, despite protective gear and CDC protocols. Officials hinted that the protective gear was not properly put on, as some initially attempted to wear multiple layers of gear. More than 100 people are being monitored in the United States for Ebola.
One nurse, Nina Pham, has been moved to the National Institute of Health, where she’ll be treated for free by infectious disease specialists.
The director of NIH’s Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, Dr. Anthony Fauci announced on Friday that Pham was stable. As many as 20 nurses a week may be caring for Pham, but Fauci reiterated that they are well trained and prepared for infectious disease.
But around the country, the fear of Ebola has spiraled.
Schools in Texas and Ohio have shut down. In Cleveland, a wedding store closed because a nurse who later was diagnosed with the disease had shopped there. At an airport, a woman was photographed travelling in a homemade hazmat suit.
Meanwhile, member of Congress have called for travel bans, and critics have slammed the Center for Disease Control and the president for not better containing the disease; those travelling from Ebola hotspots will be screened at American airports and have their temperature taken.