October 10, 2014
U.S News & World Report
By: Rep. Ted Poe
Across the ocean in West Africa, Ebola is "spiraling out of control. It is getting worse. It's spreading faster and exponentially," warned President Barack Obama just a few weeks ago. Over 3,000 people have died and that number is expected to grow. The American people have watched the situation in West Africa deteriorate where things have gotten so bad that Liberia is now ordering mass cremations for bodies of deceased Ebola victims in an effort to stop the spread of disease. But feelings of empathy quickly turned to fear in late September when Ebola hit the homeland, and the first patient was diagnosed in my home state of Texas.
Dave Daigle, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said it best: "[T]he viruses don't respect borders." Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian native was able to fly freely here from Liberia. He showed no symptoms on his flight, which is common for Ebola. In order to leave Liberia, Duncan lied on his immigration exit form when answering if he had contact with an Ebola-affected patient. He responded no. In reality, he was exposed to Ebola just days before when he helped transport an Ebola-stricken woman to a hospital. Days after Duncan had reached Texas, the disease symptoms struck, leaving those who had come into contact with him and his family as well as students at several area schools at risk. This understandably has prompted fear of contagion in Dallas and around the nation.
This week Duncan became the first Ebola death in the United States. Obama has the authority and ability to make sure he is the last.
Fortunately, There is a law already on the books that gives the president of the United States the authority to ban nonessential –excluding aid workers and military – travel to and from the Ebola hot zone in West Africa. This statute, U.S.C. Title 42 Sect. 265 provides for "suspension of entries and imports from designated places to prevent spread of communicable diseases." Invoking this law would ensure that more Americans are not unnecessarily infected while also ensuring that foreign nationals who are infected with Ebola – whether they know it yet or not – are not able to come into the United States. This is an obvious and common sense way to keep Ebola outside of our borders. That is why I have called on CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden to recommend that President Obama utilizes the power he has to do this until the threat of Ebola is under control.
The United States would not be the first country to do this. Six African nations have even suspended travel to Ebola-infected nations. British Airways has also suspended flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone – until at least March 2015. But of course, our borders remain wide open.
The administration has defiantly insisted that a travel ban is not on the table. Instead, travelers arriving from West Africa will have their temperature taken at five of the nation's airports. This is a grossly inadequate solution that will not stop the spread of the Ebola disease. I am no doctor, but as experts have pointed out, it can take up to 21 days for an infected person to show symptoms, so it is more likely than not that infected persons could get into the country, pass the temperature test and show symptoms later, just like Duncan. People in this region are scared and desperate to save their own lives. We cannot rule out the possibility of people who think they could be infected buying a plane ticket to the United States in order to have access to the best health care in the world should they come down with Ebola.
It's time to be honest with the American people. Allowing nonessential travel to West Africa is putting our citizens at unnecessary risk. Continuing with business as usual leaves our citizens vulnerable to a possible outbreak in the United States. How many people have to die for the president to act and use authority he already has under the law? The health of our citizens should be the main priority of our government. The time to implement this law to ensure Americans are not exposed to Ebola is now. And that's just the way it is.