After CDC allows nurse to fly commercial, US steps up response to Ebola

President Obama wiped his schedule clean Thursday to personally monitor what has been so far a mistake-riddled response by the US in containing the first-ever outbreak of Ebola.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
Director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Tom Frieden listens via video conference as US 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, Wednesday. Obama cancelled a fund raising trip today to hold the meeting.

Amid revelations that a nurse who has been diagnosed with Ebola had traveled on a US commercial jetliner two days prior, President Obama wiped his schedule clean on Thursday to personally monitor what has been so far a mistake-riddled response by the US.

Centers for Disease Control officials allowed nurse Amber Vinson to fly this week, even though she was showing symptoms of illness after helping treat Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan, who died at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital on Oct. 8.

But on Wednesday, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden bluntly said that Ms. Vinson should not have flown, even as he tried to reassure Americans that she likely was not highly contagious. CDC officials are now trying to get in touch with all 132 passengers on the plane so they can be monitored.

Vinson’s trip to the Cleveland area expanded the scope of Ebola’s incursion into the US to two major metropolitan areas, with a third – Atlanta – emerging as a top destination for those who have been diagnosed.

Vinson was transported to Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital on Wednesday, becoming the fourth person to be treated there. Out of a total of eight Ebola patients in the US who have or are being treated, only one, Mr. Duncan, has died. In West Africa, the World Health Organization estimates that more than 4,500 people have died so far in the worst-ever outbreak of the disease.

Vinson traveled on Frontier Airlines last Friday and returned on the same carrier on Monday, along with 132 others. The plane flew another five times before it was taken out of rotation and decontaminated.

Frontier Airlines CEO David Siegel noted that Vinson may have shown symptoms while on the flight. The airline put two pilots and four flight attendants on paid leave, even though the CDC said the crew members were OK to keep working.

This week, a large nurse’s union, Nurses United, cited unnamed nurses at the Texas hospital as the organization alleged the hospital was not equipped to deal with an Ebola patient, at one point allowing dirty linens to pile “up to the ceiling.”

The union took issue with the CDC’s initial statements that any US hospital would be able to successfully contain the spread of Ebola.

“We’ve been lied to in terms of the preparation of the hospitals,” says RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United, in a call with nurses Wednesday.

The continuing missteps have done little to allay an already anxious US populace, who are following events closely, according to polls.

The US Congress is slated to have hearings on Thursday where Dr. Frieden will testify, as will a principal at Texas Health Presbyterian, who is expected to apologize again for his hospital’s failure to originally diagnose Duncan with Ebola during his first trip to the emergency room Sept. 25. Instead, the hospital sent him home the next day. He returned two days later in an ambulance.

Dallas public health authorities say they may ask Gov. Rick Perry to declare a public emergency, primarily so the city can recoup the escalating costs of containing the illness.

Nationally, House Speaker John Boehner has asked Obama to temporarily ban flights from the Ebola “hot zone,” a move the White House, at the advice of the CDC, has so far resisted since the CDC says it could make the disease more difficult to contain at its source.

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