- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 2, 2014

President Obama on Tuesday hailed U.S. efforts to develop a vaccine for Ebola and pleaded with Congress to pass his $6.2 billion request to combat the virus at home and abroad, warning that while efforts in the West African hot zone have shown progress, the fight is “not even close to being over.”

Mr. Obama’s remarks at the National Institutes of Health in suburban Washington arrived hours after the White House said the U.S. had dramatically increased the number of hospitals that can care for potential Ebola patients.

It’s also expanded the number of labs equipped to test for the deadly virus that has killed about 5,000 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

While transmission has slowed in Liberia, Ebola continues to rage in neighboring countries and flare up in new lands, such as Mali.

“Every hot spot is an ember that, if not contained, can become a new fire,” Mr. Obama said.

The president pitched the Ebola challenge as a test of American character, saying the global community would not commit resources in West Africa without buy-in from the U.S.

“American leadership matters every time,” he said. “We set the tone and we set the agenda.”

Mr. Obama toured NIH’s vaccine research center prior to his remarks and congratulated Director Francis Collins and the nation’s top infectious diseases official, Dr. Anthony Fauci, for their progress in phase one trials in seeking the first-ever vaccine for Ebola.

Earlier Tuesday, the country’s rarely seen Ebola “czar,” Ron Klain, told the White House that hospital capacity had increased from eight beds in three facilities to 53 beds at 35 designated treatment centers across the country, and that 42 labs in three dozen states can test for Ebola compared to 13 labs in 13 states in August.

Recapping earlier efforts to contain the virus, Mr. Klain noted that travelers from the heart of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa must travel through one of five international airports, where they are subject to enhanced screening for symptoms of the viral disease. Also, states have established a patchwork of quarantine or monitoring policies for returning health care workers and visitors from affected countries.

The Health and Human Services Department said more than 80 percent of travelers from hard-hit countries live within 200 miles of a designated Ebola treatment center, and that state and local health officials are monitoring these people for 21 days after their arrival.

So far only two people have contracted Ebola within the U.S. — a pair of nurses who treated Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian who came to Dallas in late September, developed symptoms and died Oct. 8.

Both nurses were treated and cured.

A New York City doctor who returned from treating patients in West Africa tested positive for Ebola in late October and was discharged Nov. 11.

On Tuesday, The Associated Press reported the last of the 114 health care workers who cared for Dr. Craig Spencer came off the city’s active-monitoring list for Ebola.

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