iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Federal health officials faced sharp questioning by the GOP-controlled House Energy and Commerce Committee Thursday over the government’s handling of the growing Ebola crisis in the U.S.
Michigan Congressman Fred Upton, who chairs the committee, called the response by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “unacceptable,” contending that “people are scared.”
The CDC has come under heavy criticism for not ensuring that Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital was up to speed in treating Ebola patients after a Liberian man was first turned away and then came back with full-blown symptoms of the disease.
Now, the hospital is monitoring dozens of health care workers who were in contact with Thomas Eric Duncan after two nurses contracted the virus from the patient who later died. One of those nurses, Amber Vinson, flew on a plane last Monday after apparently getting the okay from the CDC.
Asked about this, CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden told the House panel that he was unaware that Vinson was given approval to fly from Cleveland to Dallas, which has since resulted in a wild scramble to retrace Vinson’s steps. Several schools in Ohio and Texas were closed Thursday because of fears people who had flown with Vinson might have been exposed to Ebola.
Frieden said it was his “understanding that she reported no symptoms to us” although it has since been revealed Vinson was flying with an elevated temperature of 99.5. It was later reported that Vinson wasn’t feeling well before her trip to Cleveland one week ago, prompting the CDC to track down passengers on that flight as a precaution.
The CDC chief didn’t get riled even as questioning about the government’s response became more heated.
He told the panel, “There are no shortcuts in the control of Ebola and it is not easy to control it. To protect the United States we need to stop it at its source,” which is West Africa where the disease has spread rapidly since March, killing thousands.
Some lawmakers repeated their calls for a travel ban to countries most affected by the virus, but Frieden insisted that would be the wrong strategy because travelers would use other means to enter the U.S., making them completely untrackable.
In separate testimony, Dr. Daniel Varga, head of the medical group that oversees Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, said that the hospital was at fault for failing to initially diagnose Duncan with Ebola, telling lawmakers, “Despite our best intentions and a highly skilled medical team, we made mistakes.”
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