Sen. Mark Pryor, insisting that he was not politicizing the outbreak of Ebola — “this is above and beyond politics,” he said, held a press conference at his office today to discuss things he thinks the federal government should be doing.
Number one on his list, Pryor, like many others, said the government should issue a temporary travel ban to keep non-citizens from entering the U.S. if they have been in the outbreak countries of West Africa, which he defined as Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea (the CDC also includes travel the Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Senegal in its guidelines for screening). He said health care workers should be allowed to reenter the U.S. but should be followed closely by CDC professionals at the five major “ports of entry” (international airports) rather than the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, as is the case now.
Republicans (including Arkansas Reps. Tom Cotton, Rick Crawford, Tim Griffin and Steve Womack) have called for an all-out travel ban from West Africa, which would affect only a few flights and do nothing to keep travelers whose flights take them through other major airports from entering.
Pryor took the opportunity to distance himself from President Obama by criticizing the administration for not finalizing an update begun during the Bush administration on quarantine protocol that would have required airlines and cruise lines to collect information on travelers, and by calling the president’s approach to containment “piece-meal.”
Pryor also wants expedited disaster aid in case of an outbreak and would make the person responsible for coordinating the federal response a member of the Cabinet so that he would have the authority act quickly in the president’s stead if necessary. President Obama today named Ron Klain to coordinate federal efforts.
Pryor credited Dr. Nate Smith, the director of the Arkansas Department of Health, with persuading the government to expedite information to state health officials from customs on who has arrived in the United States from the West African countries and where they are traveling. The information will include healthy people who the state can then follow for 21 days. Smith said the department is not following anyone, and there are no cases of Ebola or suspected cases of Ebola in Arkansas.
There is now an “unhealthy level of anxiety” among Arkansans about Ebola, Arkansas State Epidemiologist Dr. Dirk Haselow said. He said Arkansans should put Ebola in perspective; while there has been one Ebola death in the United States, influenza can kill tens of thousands of people.
Though Pryor sought to take higher ground today, he ran a campaign ad in August that said his Republican opponent, Tom Cotton, would have crippled the U.S.’ ability to respond to an Ebola crisis with his votes against emergency aid. He declined to comment on that advertisement today.
Also today, UAMS Vice Chancellor Dr. Roxane Townsend sent out an
to staff about the hospital’s actions to care for patients and protect staff from Ebola.