Obama: I ‘hugged and kissed’ Ebola nurses
U.S. President Barack Obama holds a meeting with cabinet agencies coordinating the government’s Ebola response, in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington October 15, 2014. (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)
President Barack Obama insisted Wednesday that the US response to the Ebola outbreak is effective and that the chances of the deadly virus taking hold in the United States are “extremely low.”
Concerns about health protocols have grown since two nurses that looked after Thomas Eric Duncan, who died of the disease, contracted the virus. Duncan was infected with Ebola in Liberia, where he is from, and then took a flight to the US.
Obama told reporters after a hastily convened meeting with 20 senior White House officials, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Vice-President Joe Biden and Attorney-General Eric Holder, that he himself had close contact with health workers treating Ebola patients while visiting Emory University Hospital in Atlanta and felt safe doing so.
“I shook hands with, hugged and kissed not the doctors, but a couple of the nurses at Emory, because of the valiant work they did in treating one of the patients. They followed the protocols, they knew what they were doing, and I felt perfectly safe doing so,” said the president.
Obama said it wasn’t like the flu virus, which can be transmitted in the air through coughs and sneezes.
He said he was “absolutely confident” that there will not be a serious outbreak of Ebola in the US, but stressed that it will become increasingly difficult to control the epidemic if it is not dealt with at its source in West Africa.
The president held video conferences with the French, British, German and Italian leaders on Wednesday to discuss the international response to the outbreak.
But clearly the protocols were not stringently adhered to in the nursing of Duncan and Obama admitted that officials would be looking at every step of the way Duncan was looked after.
It has already emerged that the second nurse infected with the disease violated protocol after the Center for Disease Control (CDC) announced Wednesday that she had boarded a commercial flight from Cleveland to Dallas the day before she started getting symptoms.
They also suggested that one of the nurses looking after Duncan may not have been issued with the right protective clothing and that in future they would make sure that healthcare workers have the right training and equipment.
While on Tuesday the nurses union National Nurses United said in a press conference that the strict protocols were not in place at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas where Duncan was first treated.
Obama said that now “SWAT teams” from the CDC would be deployed within 24 hours to a hospital that reports a new case of Ebola, so that smaller, non-specialized establishments that don’t have experience of dealing with the disease know what to do.
Meanwhile a growing number of lawmakers have been calling on the president to introduce a travel ban to and from the West African countries at the center of the Ebola crisis.
“A temporary ban on travel to the United States from countries afflicted with the virus is something that the president should absolutely consider along with any other appropriate actions as doubts about the security of our air travel systems grow,” House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
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