Politics & Government

Obama delivers a hug to Dallas nurse free of Ebola

President Barack Obama gives a hug to Dallas nurse Nina Pham in the Oval Office of the White House Oct. 24, 2014 in Washington, D.C.
President Barack Obama gives a hug to Dallas nurse Nina Pham in the Oval Office of the White House Oct. 24, 2014 in Washington, D.C. MCT

President Barack Obama delivered a bear hug to Dallas nurse, Nina Pham on Friday, hours after she was declared free of the Ebola virus and discharged from a nearby hospital.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest called the visit a “pretty apt reminder that we do have the best medical infrastructure in the world.”

And he noted it was also a “testament” to Pham, who fell ill while she was doing her job, caring for a Liberian patient,Thomas Eric Duncan, who later died of the virus.

“She was doing the work that many nurses do on a daily basis, and she did so, even though it did put her at some personal risk,” Earnest said. “And what she did, she's didn't to do it because she was promised a raise. She didn't do it because it was glamorous. She did it because she's committed to a profession, and was committed to a treating an individual who was sick.”

Pham met with Obama in the Oval Office Friday less than three hours after she left the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland with a clean bill of health. The 26-year-old had been transferred to the biocontainment unit at NIH’s Special Clinical Studies Unit on October 16, but was declared free from the virus earlier this week.

She had previously been hospitalized at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas where Duncan was treated.

“The fact that she has been treated and released I think is terrific news, and I think answers the prayers of many people across the country today,” Earnest said.

Earnest suggested that the Dallas case -- and lessons learned from its accompanying mistakes -- helped federal and state officials be better prepared for Thursday’s reported case of Ebola in New York. A doctor who had treated Ebola patients in Guinea was monitoring himself and checked in with health officials when he began to exhibit symptoms of the disease. He was brought to Bellevue, one of eight facilities prepared to treat people with Ebola.

“This is an indication that this kind of planning and preparation will be very important to the successful treatment of Ebola patients and the continued safety of the people of America,” Earnest said.

Lawmakers at a House committee, however, expressed concern that the doctor was not quarantined and traveled in New York, hitting the Highline Park, a coffee shop and a Brooklyn bowling alley. Earnest said disease protocols are continually being reviewed, but he said Ebola is only transmitted when someone comes in contact with the bodily fluids of an individual who has the symptoms of Ebola.

He noted that the two instances in which Ebola has been transmitted inside the United States involved Pham and another nurse at the hospital who treated Duncan.

“That obviously is very different than the kind of day-to-day encounters that the people have as they go about their business in public,” he said. “That is why the risk that is facing people of New York and people of America continues at this point to be exceedingly low, according to our medical experts.”

Indeed, Earnest said Obama “would have no qualms about riding the subway in New York or taking a stroll on the High Line... or even,bowling a few frames at this bowling alley in Brooklyn. The risk that is facing the average New Yorker, the average person going to those places remains today exceedingly low.”