Members of Congress sharply questioned top public health officials Thursday about banning travel from West African countries where the Ebola virus is out of control to the United States, demanding to know why the administration has not adopted that tactic.
“It’s not a drill,” said Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), a member of the of the House Energy and Commerce oversight and investigations subcommittee, which held Thursday’s hearing. “People’s lives are at stake, and the response so far has been unacceptable.”
Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other officials outlined the argument for allowing travel to continue, insisting that a ban would prompt travelers to sneak into the country and make it more difficult to keep tabs on people who become sick. But Frieden did not rule out a travel ban.
“Right now, we are able to track everyone who comes in,” he said. But he added: “We will consider any options to better protect Americans.”
The hearing came as the National Institutes of Health announced that a nurse infected with the Ebola virus while caring for a patient in Dallas would be transferred to the agency’s clinical center in Bethesda, one of four locations in the United States with a special biocontainment unit.
The nurse, Nina Pham, was flown Thursday evening to Frederick Municipal Airport in Frederick, Md., in an executive jet to be moved to the NIH facility, the Associated Press reported.
Anthony Fauci, director of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who testified at the hearing, said Pham would receive “state-of-the-art care.” Officials at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, where Pham became infected, said she was in good condition.
Pham, 26, is one of two nurses at the hospital who contracted Ebola while treating Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian who arrived in Dallas with the virus. The other, Amber Vinson, 29, has been transferred to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
The Dallas hospital said that much of its intensive-care staff is “sidelined for continuous monitoring” after caring for Duncan, who died Oct. 8.