Federal and Local Governments Respond to Ebola Threat


Gilberto Flores
National Beat Reporter

As the threat of the deadly Ebola virus continues to spread, government and health officials have been responding to and preparing for the threat of Ebola throughout the last few days. Originating from areas of West Africa, where the virus has claimed over 4,500 lives, Ebola has reached Dallas, TX–where two nurses and a lab worker have been confirmed to have contracted the disease after treating a patient with the virus. As more news on the outbreak develops, the issue has quickly become a political as well as a public health crisis.

On Sunday, Oct. 12, President Obama asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to expedite their investigation into the breach in infection control protocol that occurred at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. He also asked federal authorities to take immediate steps to make sure hospitals and healthcare providers are prepared to follow the right protocols in the event that they encounter an Ebola patient.

On Thursday, Oct. 16, Obama cancelled campaign travel plans to convene with health officials, including the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the director of the CDC, at the White House to focus on the government’s response to the Ebola outbreak.

On Friday, Oct. 17, Obama named Ron Klain as the new “Ebola response coordinator” in charge of organizing the federal government’s response to the Ebola crisis. Klain previously served as a former chief of staff to Vice Presidents Joe Biden and Al Gore, as well as a trusted adviser in the Obama administration. Klain will be reporting directly to Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Adviser Lisa Monaco and to National Security Adviser Susan Rice.

The President also authorized the Department of Defense to send National Guard and reserve troops to West Africa if they are ever needed in the U.S. response to the virus’s outbreak in the region. The government has already committed to sending nearly 4,000 military personnel to West Africa to provide assistance in building treatment units to combat the rapidly spreading virus. Although these personnel will be providing logistical assistance, they will not be providing direct health care aid.

While health officials here in the U.S. have been focusing of prevention, the World Health Organization has been focusing more on containing the virus in Africa. The WHO is focusing specifically on 15 African countries “with communications and trade links with Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, the three countries at the heart of the epidemic.” The WHO showed early signs of progress on Monday, Oct. 20, when it declared Nigeria “Ebola-free” after a mandatory 42 day waiting period without any new cases.

As of Monday, Oct. 20, 43 people who came into contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who died from the virus in the Dallas, have shown no symptoms during a 21-day monitoring period and have been declared cleared of having the virus.

Health agencies have been facing much criticism in their handling of the Ebola virus, particularly after the breach in infection protocol in Dallas. Federal health officials were questioned on their handling of the virus in a Congressional hearing on Thursday. The CDC has released newer and more detailed guidelines for health care workers on how to handle Ebola patients.

Texas Governor Rick Perry said that the U.S. government had made “unacceptable” mistakes it’s handling of the Ebola crisis. Perry is calling for a U.S. ban on travelers from countries with higher risks of exposure to the virus. Perry’s call for travel bans echo those of many conservative members of Congress.

At the local level, Santa Barbara airport officials met with Santa Barbara County Public Health officials to finalize a protocol for dealing with potentially ill passengers upon arrival. This is one of the several methods of preparing for a potential encounter with the virus outlined by the Public Health Department in a press release.

According to the Oct. 3 press release, “the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department has been following the Ebola situation very closely and is in regular communication with and receiving updates from the CDC and California Department of Public Health.” It went on to state that “while the situation requires extensive preparation, there is no reason to believe that there will be widespread Ebola transmission in the United States.”

Gilberto Flores is a fourth year Film & Media Studies major. Prior to becoming the News Editor, Gilberto served as National Beat Reporter.