Marchant Op-Ed: U.S. needs to ramp up response to stop Ebola

U.S. needs to ramp up response to stop Ebola

By Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Texas)
October 22, 2014, 8:00 am

America is behind the curve in tackling Ebola. When Liberian-national Thomas Duncan arrived in Dallas, he was later diagnosed with Ebola and died within several days. Two of the healthcare workers who nobly cared for Duncan have since contracted Ebola, while others are being monitored for the disease. It could get worse before it gets better.

Ebola is a critical test of America’s preparedness to stop an epidemic. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Ebola has killed more than 4,000 people and infected more than 8,000, almost all of them from three West African countries. Only one individual in America has died this year from Ebola so far, but we need a much faster and highly coordinated response to contain the virus from spreading.

North Texas, the home of my congressional district, has become a proving ground to tackle the virus. Much attention has understandably been devoted to how the first patient arrived in Texas and when he was diagnosed with the disease. Too little is paid to how the virus can be managed and overcome.

Three things are urgently needed. The first is an immediate flight travel ban to the United States from Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. A temporary travel moratorium on non-U.S. citizens from the three major affected countries of Ebola would significantly reduce the possible spread of the disease in America. Medical workers should be allowed to freely travel to the region, but appropriate quarantine measures must be in place on their return. Visas from those in the affected countries should also be temporarily put on hold. The Stop Ebola Act, which Congressman Sam Johnson (TX-03) and I will introduce, would do just that.

The second is enhanced screenings at Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) International Airport for passengers from the affected areas and those who require appropriate medical assessments. The Obama administration recently selected five U.S. airports for enhanced screening for passengers arriving from Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. The DFW Airport, while it does not receive any direct flights from the three countries, should also receive enhanced screening for passengers from those countries. DFW is the world’s third busiest airport and passengers from West Africa can clearly make a simple connecting flight to reach North Texas. It only makes sense to screen passengers from the affected Ebola countries at DFW.

The third is to have an operational Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Quarantine Station with staff at DFW Airport. There are currently 20 CDC Quarantine Stations at airports across the country. DFW, which serves more than 60 million passengers a year, should have qualified CDC workers on hand in case an individual needs to be quickly quarantined.

At a recent Homeland Security Committee field hearing in my district, it became even clearer to me that this threat should be countered more aggressively. The number of cases is roughly doubling every three weeks in the affected African countries, and we are now experiencing how easily, and tragically, the virus can be transmitted at home.

While Ebola is a terrible disease, it can be controlled. Just look at Nigeria, a country that had confirmed cases as recent as July and now has no known cases. Through decisive leadership, the right resources, and a coordinated response, the country was able to safely and effectively prevent an outbreak. The WHO declared on Monday that the outbreak in Nigeria is officially over.

As America tackles this deadly virus, we must all work together to help protect our families and community. Our local officials, healthcare workers, hospital staff, and emergency providers are doing an outstanding job to keep us safe. But to defeat Ebola at home, Washington needs to urgently ramp up its efforts.

Marchant has represented Texas’s 24th Congressional District since 2005. He sits on the Ways and Means and the Education and the Workforce committees.

Originally published on The Hill’s Congress Blog on October 22, 2014.