President Obama lauded the U.S. volunteer medical workers going to West Africa to fight the Ebola outbreak and warned against allowing reactions “based on fear” shape American policy toward them upon their return.
“We don’t just react based on our fear. We react based on facts and judgement and making smart decisions. That’s how we built this country and sustained this country and protected this country,” Obama said Tuesday afternoon.
The president did not mention New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo or New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie by name. But his speech delivered an implicit critique of the steps the two have taken.
The New York and New Jersey governors both introduced strict quarantine measures this weekend after a New York City doctor who had treated Ebola patients in Africa was diagnosed with the disease. The measures provoked fierce pushback from the White House, public health experts, and international aid organizations, and both governors subsequently took steps to relax the new quarantine measures.
In an attempt to create a more uniform national policy, the federal government issued stricter protocols for workers returning from the Ebola zone, but the new guidelines that were issued on Monday don’t recommend automatic quarantine measures.
In his remarks, Obama described the new federal protocols for returning healthcare workers as “sensible, based in science, and tailored to the unique circumstances” of the individual.
Obama spoke earlier Tuesday with team of officials who are leading the U.S. response to Ebola in Liberia and stressed the need to focus on the epidemic “at its source” in West Africa, describing the U.S. health care workers as integral to that effort.
“They are doing God’s work over there. They are doing that to keep us safe. We want to make sure every policy that is put in place is supportive of their efforts,” Obama said.
The president also emphasized the U.S. role in leading the international response to the crisis in West Africa. “It’s typical of what America does best: When others are in trouble, when disease and disaster strike, Americans help,” he said. “No other nation is doing as much.”
America has committed more money than any other country to the Ebola response in West Africa, sending $350 million in aid and $750 million in military spending to build Ebola treatment centers and 25-bed hospital that’s scheduled to open next week.