Hours after officials confirmed that a second health care worker had tested positive for Ebola in Texas, Republican Gov. Rick Perry said that he would cut his pre-scheduled European trip short and return to his home state tomorrow, his office confirmed to NBC News Wednesday. Earlier in the day, Perry's spokesman said the governor had no plans to return early "at this point."
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Perry, who is openly considering another presidential run in 2016, is currently in Poland visiting the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. He was scheduled to then head to Kiev as part of what's been billed as an "economic development trip" to England, Germany, Poland and Ukraine.
Meanwhile, back in Texas, Perry's Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response held a private meeting Wednesday to discuss recommendations for how state officials should address the treatment and response to Ebola. The Task Force will have its first public meeting on Oct. 23 in Austin, where members will conduct a hearing on medical and public health preparedness for infectious diseases.
Perry created the 15-member Task Force, headed by Texas A&M's Dr. Brett P. Giroir, nine days ago — prior to the death of Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola on American soil, and the subsequent infections of two of Duncan's nurses. According to a spokesperson at the Texas A&M Health Science Center, private meetings like Wednesday's have taken place regularly since the task force's creation.
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"I am in daily contact with Dr. Brett Giroir and Dr. David Lakey [commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services] and earlier today spoke with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell to ensure state and federal management of this issue is tightly coordinated," Perry said Wednesday in a statement. "This is the first time that our nation has had to deal with a threat such as this. Everyone working on this challenge — from the medical professionals at the bedside to the public health officials addressing containment of the infection — is working to end the threat posed by this disease."
"I have great faith that we will succeed in this important mission," he added.
Despite making those assurances from Europe, however, Perry's physical absence as his home state grapples with an intensifying public health crisis sparked criticism about his level of commitment and leadership. Will Hailer, the Texas Democratic Party's executive director, told CNN that the governor's trip illustrated the fact that he's "an irresponsible leader who's not paying attention to Texans."
"An economic development trip two months before the end of your term, in between jet-setting to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, clearly shows that this is a development trip for Perry," Hailer said.
Of likely 2016 Republican presidential candidates, Perry has been the least critical of the Obama administration. He did say, however, that “there’s only so much that a state can do," during his announcement of the infectious diseases Task Force, and stressed that “Washington needs to take immediate steps to minimize” the risks of Ebola.
Prior to news that Perry had cut his political trip short, Obama announced that he had postponed travel to New Jersey and Connecticut Wednesday to instead hold a White House meeting of cabinet agencies that are coordinating the government's response to the Ebola outbreak.