Washington – Ebola has made a grim, unexpected appearance in the political arena and helped broaden the gulf between Democrats and Republicans running for Congress in Connecticut.
Most Republicans running for the House of Representatives followed incumbent GOP members in criticizing the Obama administration’s response to the crisis. They are calling for an end to flights from the West African countries that are being ravaged by the disease.
“A good first step to take, until we have a handle on this, is stopping commercial flights to and from Western Africa. Our knowledge on how the disease can be transmitted is still evolving as we learn more about it,” said James Brown, who is running against Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District.
With slight deviations, Brown’s position is echoed by most Connecticut Republicans running for Congress,but rejected by Democrats.
Matthew Corey, who is running against Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, said, “Congress must draft a bill to secure this nation and ban flights from countries that have an Ebola outbreak. The [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] is not capable of and is ill equipped to handle this outbreak.”
Meanwhile, Lori Hopkins-Cavanagh, the GOP opponent of Rep. Joe Courtney, said, “I disagree with the stance taken by the Centers for Disease Control, that there is no need to stop travelers from entering the U.S. directly or indirectly from West African countries.”
CDC Director Tom Frieden told a House panel last week he did not see a need for a travel ban, but also said the agency “will consider any options to better protect Americans.”
On Monday evening, Frieden said the CDC has tightened infection-control guidelines for health-care workers caring for Ebola patients, explicitly recommending that no skin be exposed.
The CDC had updated 2008 Ebola guidelines in August, but the infections of two Dallas nurses showed they were not clear enough, Frieden said.
Travelers from Ebola-stricken east African nations, including Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, are now being screened at New York’s Kennedy Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport, Chicago O’Hare International Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Most West African visitors to the United States don’t fly direct, but through European hubs. Airports in London and Paris have begun screening West African passengers, as have several in Canada.
Mark Greenberg, who is running against Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, wants more than a travel ban. He said he supports efforts to press President Obama to issue a temporary ban on travel from the West African nations battling the epidemic and has also called for Frieden to resign because his agency allowed a nurse who had treated an Ebola patient and who had a fever to board a plane.
“Frieden’s testimony underscores the Obama administration’s failure to control this crisis, and it is increasingly clear the CDC needs new leadership. Therefore, I am calling on Director Frieden to resign and asking my opponent to do the same,” Greenberg said.
Connecticut Democrats, however, don’t support a travel ban.
Esty said she supports “precautionary health screenings at airports of passengers who travelled to West Africa, but I do not support an outright travel ban.”
“American citizens have a right to return home, and a travel ban would leave American health workers who are risking their lives to volunteer in the affected areas with no way to return home,” Esty said.
Larson, who traveled to Washington Friday to attend a briefing by CDC officials, said “while they stated all options should be on the table, the evidence at this time suggests a ban on travel would be counterproductive.”
“The most important thing we can do for our national security is focus on ensuring our domestic providers have all the information and resources they need and continuing an aggressive response to Ebola in West Africa,” Larson said.
Courtney campaign spokeswoman Elizabeth Donovan said much the same thing.
“Public health experts have rejected the travel ban as not only ineffective and impossible to enforce, but potentially counterproductive to discourage reporting of symptoms and travel by individuals,” she said. “This is also why the previous Bush Administration rejected a travel ban when confronted with the worldwide Avian Flu.”
DeLauro said “most health experts believe a travel ban would not be effective and could actually hamper efforts to contain the virus at its source in West Africa.”
“I agree with those who have said that we need to focus the majority of our efforts on containing and stopping the outbreak at its source,” she said.
But DeLauro, who sits on the House appropriations panel that funds the Department of Health and Human Resources, has asked for hearings on budget cuts to the National Institutes of Health and other federal health agencies. Like many Democrats, DeLauro says the budget cuts hurt the nation’s preparedness for a scourge like Ebola.