The first U.S. death of a man with Ebola shows there’s not “a lot of margin for error,” President Barack Obama warned Wednesday in a conference call with state and local officials.
Thomas Eric Duncan, 42, died Wednesday morning at a Dallas hospital, a week after he was diagnosed with Ebola. The Liberian national arrived in Dallas on Sept. 20 and fell ill a few days later. He went to the emergency room at Texas Health Presbyterian Dallas Hospital on Sept. 25, but was discharged, only to return five days later in an ambulance. Hospital officials have said the misstep in his diagnosis is being "thoroughly reviewed.”
But Obama said it serves as a lesson to follow “the procedures and protocols that have been established, based on the science.
“If we don’t follow protocols and procedures that are put in place, then we’re putting folks in our communities at risk," Obama said.
He told the officials that "from Day 1,” his administration has made fighting Ebola a national security priority and that the U.S. is “working aggressively” to stop the epidemic in West Africa and to “stop any cases in their tracks here at home."
He noted that Americans are "reasonably concerned" by the threat posed by Ebola, but called the threat of a breakout in the U.S. “extremely low,” thanks to the U.S. medical system, safety measures, and the work the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has done with infectious diseases.
Obama noted that in recent months, thousands of travelers have arrived from West Africa, "and so far, only one case of Ebola has been diagnosed in the United States."
The call came as the U.S. announced it would screen travelers from the three most-affected countries at five airports. Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the administration was holding the call to make sure that state and local officials “have answers to questions that they may have" about the federal response.
“We want to make sure they have all of the necessary information to reassure members of their public that the risk of an outbreak of Ebola in the United States is exceedingly low," Earnest said.
Obama said the administration is working with hospitals across the country "so that local partners are truly prepared should someone who has a history of travel to the affected countries in West Africa start showing symptoms."
He called the new screening measures at airports "really just belt-and-suspenders -- an added layer of protection on top of the procedures already in place at several airports."
But he said the new measures would give health officials the ability to "isolate, evaluate and monitor travelers."
He said the US has "the best doctors in the world" and that he was "confident that so long as we work together, and we’re operating with an appropriate sense of urgency that we will prevent an outbreak from happening here."
And he told the governors, mayors and county officials on the call that he had instructed his team "to do whatever federal assistance they can to make sure you’re ready to respond should someone be diagnosed with Ebola in your state."
"We’re going to have to be partners in this fight," he said.