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Fears Of A U.S. Ebola Outbreak Prompt Travel Ban Proposals


We've learned this morning that President Obama plans to name an Ebola czar - a single official to oversee the federal response to the disease in the United States. The president has rejected calls for a travel ban from West Africa where the disease continues to spread.


That talk of travel bans comes amid concern about air travel safety, not just from West Africa to the United States but within this country. You may recall a nurse flew from Dallas to Ohio and back in the days before she was diagnosed as having Ebola.

WERTHEIMER: Despite reassurances from health officials that the risk of transmitting the virus on a plane is actually very low, congressional Republicans are sharply criticizing the administration's handling of that and other elements of the Ebola response. NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Members of a House subcommittee grilled the nation's top public health advisors for hours Thursday about efforts to contain the Ebola outbreak. Some Republicans call the Obama administration's response unacceptable, saying the American public is losing confidence in it each day. While acknowledging some missteps, CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden insisted that with guidelines properly followed, Ebola does not pose a major health threat to the U.S. but...

THOMAS FRIEDEN: ...There are no shortcuts in the control of Ebola. And it is not easy to control it. To protect the United States, we have to stop it at the source.

SCHAPER: That source is in the West African nations of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. And Frieden says he fears that if the outbreak spreads more widely in Africa, Ebola could become a health threat to the U.S. for a long time to come.

That prompted Michigan Congressman Fred Upton to renew calls for a ban on anyone traveling from those Ebola hot spots to the U.S.

REPRESENTATIVE FRED UPTON: No. You're not coming here, not until this situation - you're right, it needs to be solved in Africa. But until it is, we should not be allowing these folks in, period.

SCHAPER: Later at the White House, President Obama said a travel ban wouldn't work.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I don't have a philosophical objection necessarily to a travel ban if that is the thing that is going to keep the American people safe.

SCHAPER: But the president says people from the Ebola-affected areas would still try to travel to the U.S., and they may just break up their trip to avoid tracking.


OBAMA: As a result, we may end up getting less information about who has the disease. They're less likely to get treated properly, screened properly, quarantined properly. And as a consequence, we could end up having more cases rather than less.

SCHAPER: Meanwhile, airline passengers from West Africa are now facing enhanced Ebola screening upon arrival at four additional major U.S. airports. Joining JFK in New York are Newark, Atlanta, Dulles outside of Washington, D.C., and here at Chicago's O'Hare. Customs personnel question travelers about where they've been, how they're feeling and whether they've been exposed to Ebola while also taking their temperatures.

Charles Usher, who came through O'Hare from London on his way back home to Kansas City, calls the additional Ebola screening a good step.

CHARLES USHER: Yeah, I think it has to be done. It's so - you know, such a volatile virus that if it gets away from us it could be a, you know, huge deal.

SCHAPER: Adewunmi Olasode-Marcins says she was screened for Ebola before boarding her plane in Nigeria. She wasn't screened again when arriving in Chicago. But Olasode-Marcins says it wouldn't bother her if she had.

ADEWUNMI OLASODE-MARCINS: I'm not offended about that, you understand? It's for the safety of everybody.

SCHAPER: Many airline passengers say they don't worry at all about becoming infected with Ebola and won't change their travel plans because of the outbreak. Among them is Tyler Panion of the Chicago suburb of Naperville.

TYLER PANION: I'm not too concerned. I know a little bit about how it's transmitted and, you know, what it takes to contract it. So I think there's a little bit of hysteria about it. And, you know, I'm just not that concerned. I don't know.

SCHAPER: Nonetheless, the CDC says it will try to contact those passengers on both of the Frontier Airlines flights to and from Cleveland taken by the second Dallas nurse diagnosed with Ebola, as she may have had a low-grade fever while traveling. Frontier says its planes have now been thoroughly cleaned according to the CDC's suggested protocols. Meanwhile, the first nurse infected has now been transferred to the National Institutes of Health in Maryland. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.
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