Steady leadership needed to address Ebola crisis

Published 5:21 pm Tuesday, October 21, 2014

By U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne

People in Southwest Alabama and across the country are worried about the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus. According to a recent survey by the Washington Post, nearly two-thirds of Americans are concerned about a widespread Ebola epidemic. I can’t blame them.

The Obama administration has failed to put forward a clear message on how to respond to Ebola. President Obama said for weeks it was unlikely that Ebola would reach the United States, but now we know that is not the case. The head of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said procedures were in place at local hospitals to deal with Ebola patients, but days later the CDC said a hospital in Dallas, Texas, mishandled an Ebola patient resulting in two nurses contracting the virus. The mixed messages go on and on.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The outbreak of the Ebola virus in west Africa, where over 4,300 have died, is a humanitarian and national security crisis that calls for serious action and steady leadership from our nation’s leaders. I can think of a few actions the United States could take to help combat the deadly virus.

First, I want to make clear, while very deadly, Ebola is very difficult to transmit. In order to become infected, an individual would need to have direct contact with the bodily fluids of a symptomatic Ebola victim. The virus spread so quickly in west Africa as a result of the poor quality of medical care and unique burial practices. The threat of a widespread Ebola outbreak in the United States remains very low.

That said, we should be taking every measure necessary to ensure an outbreak does not occur in our country. A commonsense step would be to place a temporary ban on air travel to the United States from countries in western Africa, including Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. In fact, the first case of Ebola in the United States was brought over on a flight from Liberia. A travel ban would help to halt new cases of Ebola from entering our country and allow our medical community to focus on stopping the spread based on our current cases.

While a travel ban would be a good first step, we must continue to implement intensive screenings of air passengers to limit the spread and quarantine any potential cases. The CDC announced recently they would conduct screenings on international passengers at most of the large airports in the United States. We must have screenings here in the United States in addition to screenings done abroad at the departing airport. Any potential cases should be quarantined until testing for Ebola can be completed.

We must also ensure that local hospitals understand the correct procedures for dealing with a potential Ebola case. The CDC should continue to share information and provide hands-on training for local hospitals, especially in metropolitan areas. If a patient is confirmed to have Ebola, he or she should be transported to one of four special isolation facilities in the United States. These facilities would allow the patient to receive the best care possible in a safe, secure environment.

I also believe we must commit resources to halting the Ebola outbreak in west Africa, but I strongly condemn the use of American military personnel for this medical challenge. Our military men and women are stretched too thin already with multiple threats of Islamic extremists in the Middle East and in Africa. Our military is not adequately trained for this medical mission, and there are better suited organizations, like the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations (UN), to address this unique medical challenge.

I remain confident that with these steps and more serious action we can prevent a major Ebola outbreak from occurring in the United States. In order to do that, tough choices must be made and steady leadership will be required. I urge President Obama and his administration to show leadership and put forward a bold strategy to combat this deadly virus.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is the representative for the 1st Congressional District of Alabama, which includes Escambia County.