AKRON, Ohio — Ohio Gov. John Kasich has joined the growing ranks of Republican lawmakers calling for a travel ban on African countries afflicted with Ebola as his state continues its own containment efforts.
“The president has to very seriously consider the fact that we don’t want people from infected areas to be flying into the country. This is difficult enough to deal with, the problem we currently have,” said Kasich at a press conference Saturday morning.
The Republican governor added: “If the president were to call me and ask me, I would say I think it makes sense to have that ban in place, in terms of commercial flights.”
Ohio officials said that it was closely monitoring 29 Ohio residents who had contact with Amber Vinson, the Dallas nurse who was diagnosed with Ebola shortly after spending three days in the Akron area visiting family. Some of the contacts are among the passengers who flew with Vinson between Cleveland and Dallas this past weekend. Officials have said an individual can only contract Ebola from direct contact with the a person actively showing symptoms of the virus.
Kasich said the U.S. needed to be “extremely, extremely careful about allowing people to come here from there.” At the same time, he urged the U.S. to take the lead in the global effort to contain the Ebola epidemic in Africa.
“We are all made in the image of the Lord, and I think sometimes the developed nations have not put the resources and the emphasis on what needs to be done in terms of Africa. They are our brothers and sisters as well,” Kasich said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t take tough action now in terms of protecting ourselves, but this has been an ongoing problem.”
Most research suggests that a travel ban would not be effective in containing a disease like Ebola, as travelers will find a way to attempt to evade the new restrictions, making them harder to track; it would restrict the flow of supplies and essential personnel; and it would deal a serious blow to already hobbled West African economies and infrastructure.
Kasich cited President George W. Bush, the U.S. Congress, and “the rock star Bono” as among those who have paid close attention to Africa’s problems. “This is a worldwide issue—it’s not just the United States. The United States should be in the lead, we always are,” he said.
Dr. Chris Braden of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agreed that the U.S. needs to focus on West Africa to curb the global spread of Ebola. “How best do we address the source of the problem, how do we support the countries really to be able to do that themselves and to help them? Because that is the flame that is the ground zero for Ebola and where those sparks can emanate,” said Braden, who is helping to coordinate the Ebola response in Ohio. “That’s really where we need to be concentrating.”
Kasich demurred, however, when msnbc asked whether he supported increasing aid to Africa as part of the effort to curb the epidemic. “I’ll answer that when we get through this—this is a front line issue,” he said, referring to Ohio’s Ebola response efforts.
Ohio has developed new Ebola protocols that go well beyond federal guidelines, which were developed in consultation with the state’s infectious disease experts. “We thought this was the right way to proceed and I told the president that the other day and said, ‘Look we’re a little stricter,’” Kasich said.
He added, however, that the state was working closely in coordination with the Obama administration and federal officials. “They are working with us on it, they are not undercutting us,” he said, describing the CDC as terrific partners.”
The Ohio governor urged other states to be similarly proactive. ”If you currently are concerned about this, organize your state,” he said. “Should you have a problem, the CDC will come, but do not believe there is some magic solution that comes with the arrival of CDC.”
Ohio currently has no known cases of Ebola, and all of the people being monitored “are all health today,” said Gene Nixon, Summit County’s health commissioner.
In Dallas, where Vinson had treated the first patient to die of Ebola, there are 11 contacts and 148 potential contacts that are currently tracked by the CDC. Fourteen people in Dallas are now out of isolation having cleared the disease’s incubation period without developing symptoms. Vinson, who traveled from Cleveland to Dallas on Monday, has been transferred to an Atlanta hospital. Her colleague Nina Pham, the first person to contract Ebola in the U.S., has been moved to a Maryland facility.
Though Vinson spent only three days in Ohio, word of the case has spread quickly throughout the state. At Kent State University, where three of Vinson’s relatives work, “some people are making jokes, but a lot of people are kind of scared,” says student Alecia Kay.
Kay, a 18-year-old freshman, says the university did clarify that Vinson’s relatives did not work in close contact with students. (They include Vinson’s mother, an assistant to the university’s president, and her stepfather.) But she wishes that Kent State were doing more to inform students about the basic facts of the disease, hold open sessions with medical professionals, and urge them to take basic preventative measures like regular hand-washing. “A lot of people are dying, and they aren’t taking enough precautions,” she said.
The news of Vinson’s case was partly what prompted her mother to visit her this weekend. “I’m pretty upset about it. That’s one of the reasons that I’m here today,” said Sandee Kay, who came from southwestern Ohio to visit her daughter— more than a three-hour drive away.
Sandee Kay, who lives in the Cincinnati area, says she’s re-assured to see campus life proceeding more or less like normal. But she also wonders why there aren’t more signs with information about Ebola posted around campus and wonders about the wisdom of proceeding with Saturday’s homecoming festivities. Local health officials have not recommended that schools be closed or events be cancelled, though a few Cleveland-area school districts shuttered on Thursday anyway.
“I feel like if you don’t address it and keep it low key, no one knows how to prevent it, no one knows what to do,” she said. Sandee Kay added that she was angry at the government and the CDC for dropping the ball in its response, putting health-workers lives at risk. “They’re like soldiers, you got to protect them,” she said.
Eric Steele, chief medical officer of Summa Health System in Akron, urged the media to act responsibly as well. Officials say that the number of people who’ve had contact with Vinson has grown in recent days, but only because they have successfully tracked down those who were in close proximity to her on her flight and in the bridal shop she visited—not because their understanding of her movements or activities have changed.
“If you don’t get point about the contacts right, the public will get tremendously alarmed, and the health systems will be buried with people concerned that they have symptoms,” Steele told reporters at Saturday’s press conference. “We will not be able to handle it, and we won’t be able to take care vast majority of people who need us every day for problems that have nothing to do with Ebola.”