Foreign Policy / National Security

Travelers from Ebola-Stricken Africa: Obama’s “Entry Screening”

“Entry Screening” is among the latest concerns in the White House.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, met with President Obama and a group of top health and security officials Monday.  They deliberated over creating additional screening requirements for travelers entering the U.S. from African nations stricken with Ebola.

Since the virus spreads easily by way of bodily secretions such as sweat, many believe that powerful actions should be taken to ensure that the outbreak does not spread beyond the five patients in the U.S. already infected by the virus.  In a statement Friday, Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) said “I am deeply concerned that Administration officials are not engaging in discussion of travel restrictions from the Ebola ‘hot zones’ such as Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.”  While Murphy called for a meeting to take place October 16, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) has called for a hearing this Friday in Dallas.

Pressures for the Administration to take action on U.S. soil have tensely grown since the first U.S.-diagnosed case appeared in Texas last week.  Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal argued Friday that “even countries in Africa have cut back on or stopped accepting flights from countries with Ebola outbreaks.”  Although the Obama Administration stated that flights would not shut down between the U.S. and affected African countries, the President did resolve to take further actions to secure the health and safety of the U.S.

“I consider this a top national security priority,” Obama stated to the press after the meeting Monday.  “Countries that think that they can sit on the sidelines and just let the United States do it, that will result in a less effective response, a less speedy response, and that means that people will die.”  The President contended that while some large countries are sitting back watching this epidemic spread, multiple small countries are giving the effort all of their available resources.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has prepared isolation units and set up hospital beds in conjunction with help from the Department of Defense (DOD), and now the President said that additional screenings would be required of passengers traveling out of affected countries.  Additionally, Obama stated that he would place pressure on fellow heads of state and government in other countries to stop Ebola.

While some of those in the meeting included Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, none have elaborated on the exact protocols that will be created.  However, Obama has announced plans to deploy up to 4,000 soldiers in response to the epidemic.

Three mobile testing labs are already in service in Liberia and there are plans to institute four more.  General David Rodriguez, head American commander in Africa, stated Tuesday that military personnel will not be in direct contact with any patients potentially stricken with the virus.  Instead, they will test fluid samples provided by patients.  Since lab results can be processed within 24 hours, staffers will quickly be able to identify patients in need of treatment.

Answering concerns made by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), two leading lawmakers, the Pentagon said that any troop infected with Ebola would be flown back the U.S. immediately for treatment.  Tuesday, CDC Director Tom Frieden stated that although the Administration is still working on exact entry screening protocols, they would be initiated “both in places of origin and on arrival to the U.S.”

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved hand-held temperature reading devices that are currently being used in West Africa.  These cheap noncontact devices provide a quick means by which to check travelers for fevers from several inches away.

Although measures taken thus far have led to the successful screening of approximately 36,000 people, Frieden stated Tuesday that “we’re not, today, providing steps we plan to take, but I can assure you we’ll be taking additional steps and will be making those public in the coming days.”  Since the patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, in Dallas did not contract a fever until five days after arriving, screening him would not have worked.  Considering his death in isolation today at 7:51 a.m., many have given condolences to his family and continued to urge the nation to help end this traumatic virus.  The Obama Administration is concentrated on working out details for how best to procure security and health for the U.S. and the other affected nations.