Politics

Marsha Blackburn Wishes Bill Frist, Who Disapproves Of Travel Ban, Were Ebola Czar

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) has taken to the airwaves in recent days with sharp criticism of Ron Klain, President Barack Obama's pick for Ebola czar, while making the case that former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist would have been a more suitable choice.

During several television appearances over the last two days, Blackburn argued that Klain is merely capable of political spin, whereas Frist, a physician, would bring a "more respectable" view to the table. But when asked how she would like the federal government to respond to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, Blackburn echoed GOP calls for a travel ban -- an approach Frist has opposed.

"What we need is someone who understands all the aspects of government and understands the delivery of health care in this affected region," Blackburn told MSNBC's José Díaz-Balart on Monday. "Having someone with a broader experience in health care and emergency response would be more appropriate, I think, than someone like Ron Klain, who is known for being a spinner. And the American people are just so frustrated, they want someone who is the adult in charge, who can say this is exactly what we're dealing with, this is the transmissibility of the disease."

Blackburn then lamented the fact that the Obama administration overlooked the likes of Frist or Russel Honoré, the lieutenant general who led the Department of Defense response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and went on to note that her main gripe with the administration's response to Ebola was the lack of a travel ban.

"We've been told time and again -- if you want to get your arms around this Ebola outbreak you have to isolate it, over there in West Africa and you have to deal with it there," she said. "We need to go about restricting these visas or doing a quarantine there or having some kind of travel ban so we can get our arms around it and coordinate the proper response."

Blackburn made similar comments in multiple interviews on Sunday, telling CNN's Wolf Blitzer during one appearance that Frist "understands the medical and the governmental component," and calling him a "more appropriate type of appointee" on CBS's "Face the Nation."

But when Frist offered up his medical expertise on the subject, he denounced the idea of a travel ban and endorsed much of what the Obama administration is already doing.

A travel ban "would be ineffective from a public and personal health perspective and would be grossly counterproductive to ensuring a cooperative, inclusive and closely aligned effort to eradicate the virus," Frist told The Associated Press.

He added that "despite current fears," the virus is not easily spread and said "comprehensive and targeted airport screening, like that implemented by the CDC," was a more appropriate way of preventing the proliferation of Ebola in the U.S. and other countries.

Blackburn isn't the only Republican to argue that Frist would have made a better choice to manage the U.S. response to Ebola. Doug Heye, who served as chief of staff to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), told CNN Monday that "no Republican and probably no Democrat would have criticized a pick" like Frist. Two-time GOP presidential candidate Steve Forbes also named Frist as one of three individuals he would have preferred for the role.

Frist's opposition to a travel ban is particularly notable given that Republicans' main criticism with the administration's response to Ebola has been that restrictions have not been imposed on flights to the U.S. from the three affected countries in West Africa. The GOP has spent recent weeks ramping up pressure on Democrats to support a travel ban ahead of midterm elections, a move that has proved successful in some high-profile races.

Republicans, who initially led the calls for an Ebola czar, were immediate in their rejection of Klain, a former chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden, when the appointment was announced last week. Several GOP lawmakers argued that the selection of a longtime Democratic aide was purely political, and criticized the fact that Klain lacks a public health background.

The White House defended its decision by noting that the role did not necessitate a medical background, and that Klain was chosen for his management experience. Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, backed up the administration's choice on Sunday.

"There are health officials -- there's myself, there's the CDC, there are others. You don't need to be a health care person," Fauci said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "You need to be somebody who is a good organizer, and his experience is extraordinary. He has been chief of staff to a couple of vice presidents, he has a lot of experience."

1
Ebola is highly infectious and even being in the same room as someone with the disease can put you at risk
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Not as far as we know. Ebola isn't contagious until symptoms begin, and it spreads through direct contact with the bodily fluids of patients. It is not, from what we know of the science so far, an airborne virus. So contact with the patient's sweat, blood, vomit, feces or semen could cause infection, and the body remains infectious after death. Much of the spread in west Africa has been attributed to the initial distrust of medical staff, leaving many to be treated at home by loved ones, poorly equipped medics catching the disease from patients, and the traditional burial rites involving manually washing of the dead body. From what we know already, you can't catch it from the air, you can't catch it from food, you can't catch it from water.
2
You need to be worried if someone is sneezing or coughing hard
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Apart from the fact that sneezing and coughing aren't generally thought to be symptoms of Ebola, the disease is not airborne, so unless someone coughed their phlegm directly into your mouth, you wouldn't catch the disease. Though medical staff will take every precaution to avoid coming into contact with the body of an infected person at all costs, with stringent hygiene there should be a way to contain the virus if it reaches the UK.
3
Cancelling all flights from west Africa would stop the spread of Ebola
ASSOCIATED PRESS
This actually has pretty serious implications. British Airways suspended its four-times-weekly flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone until the end of March, the only direct flight to the region from the UK. In practice, anyone can just change planes somewhere else and get to Britain from Europe, north Africa, or the Middle East. And aid agencies say that flight cancellations are hampering efforts to get the disease under control, they rely on commercial flights to get to the infected regions. Liberia's information minister, Lewis Brown, told the Telegraph this week that BA was putting more people in danger. "We need as many airlines coming in to this region as possible, because the cost of bringing in supplies and aid workers is becoming prohibitive," he told the Telegraph. "There just aren't enough seats on the planes. I can understand BA's initial reaction back in August, but they must remember this is a global fight now, not just a west African one, and we can't just be shut out." Christopher Stokes, director of MSF in Brussels, agreed: “Airlines have shut down many flights and the unintended consequence has been to slow and hamper the relief effort, paradoxically increasing the risk of this epidemic spreading across countries in west Africa first, then potentially elsewhere. We have to stop Ebola at source and this means we have to be able to go there.”
4
Temperature screening at airports is an effective way to stop those who have the disease from travelling
ASSOCIATED PRESS
The screening process is pretty porous, especially when individuals want to subvert it. Wake up on the morning of your flight, feel a bit hot, and you definitely don't want to be sent to an isolation booth for days and have to miss your flight. Take an ibuprofen and you can lower your temperature enough to get past the scanners. And if you suspect you have Ebola, you might be desperate to leave, seeing how much better the treatment success has been in western nations. And experts have warned that you cannot expect people to be honest about who they have had contact with. Thomas Eric Duncan, the Ebola victim who died in Texas, told officials he had not been in contact with anyone with the disease, but had in fact visited someone in the late stages of the virus, though he said he believed it was malaria. The extra screening that the US implemented since his death probably wouldn't have singled out Duncan when he arrived from hard-hit Liberia last month, because he had no symptoms while travelling.
5
Border staff should stop people coming in to the country who are at risk
LEON NEAL via Getty Images
They're not doctors, and it's a monumental task to train 23,500 people who work for the UK Border Agency how to correctly diagnose a complex disease, and spot it in the millions of people who come through British transport hubs. Public Health England has provided UK Border Force with advice on the assessment of an unwell patient on entry to UK, but they can't be expected to check everyone.
6
Screening at British airports should be implemented to stop unwell people coming in from affected areas
ASSOCIATED PRESS
As mentioned before, the UK, especially London, is a major transport hub. Unlike the US, most of those coming from west Africa will have crossed through Europe, so infected people could be coming from practically anywhere, not just flights directly from those countries. This would require the UK to screen every returning traveller, as people could return to the UK from an affected country through any port of entry. This would be huge numbers of low risk people, at vast, vast expense.
7
Ebola doesn't have a cure
John Moore via Getty Images
There are several cures currently being tested for Ebola. They include the ZMapp vaccine which was administered to British sufferer William Pooley and two other Americans who caught the disease in west Africa and they all recovered. Supplies of the drug have now run dry, and it has not been through clinical trials to prove its effectiveness. Mapp Biopharmaceutical, the company that makes ZMapp, says the drug's supplies are exhausted and that it takes months to make even a small batch. But an Ebola cure is very much on the horizon, and would have come sooner had it been seen as any kind of priority for drug companies before it started reaching the western world.
8
Ebola is a death sentence
ASSOCIATED PRESS
It is true that certain strains of Ebola have had a death rate of 90%. However, with this particular epidemic the stats are more positive, a death rate of around 60%. Those who have decent, strong immune systems, are able to access intravenous fluids and scrupulous health care are far more likely to survive, which is why the survival rate of westerners who contract the disease is far better. Experts have suggested that, rather than waste money on pointless airport screenings, funds could be used to improve infrastructure in the affected nations to help halt the spread of the disease at source.
9
Ebola turns you into a zombie
Renee Keith via Getty Images
Just, no.

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