- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Despite progress in the fight against Ebola, President Obama said Tuesday the global response is “nowhere near out of the woods yet in West Africa,” as skeptical members of Congress renewed their calls for a travel ban and pored over his $6.2 billion request to fund efforts to combat the disease at home and abroad.

House Republicans begged for clarity from the Obama administration, saying a series of early missteps shook their faith in the U.S. response, while the nation’s largest union of registered nurses called on the Labor Department to mandate optimal protection for health care workers who might treat Ebola in American hospitals.

Administration officials said they’ve limited Ebola’s damage in the U.S., but Republican lawmakers asked them, once again, to consider travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines for health care workers returning from West Africa.

“All efforts need to be on the table when it comes to keeping Americans safe,” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican.

Mr. Obama has said a travel ban would make it difficult to track people coming back into the country. He said the best way to keep the U.S. safe is by stopping the disease at its source in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, where the virus has killed roughly 5,000 people.

“We have to stay with it,” he said Tuesday before meeting with his Ebola response team. “That’s why I’m calling on Congress to make sure that it approves, before it leaves, the emergency funding request that we put forward to respond to Ebola, both domestically and internationally.”

SEE ALSO: Obama calls on lame-duck Congress to approve Ebola funding

Rep. Tim Murphy, Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s oversight panel, warned that when it comes to a deadly disease like Ebola, he would “rather be good than lucky,” and that means stricter standards for travelers from the affected region.

He said it makes little sense that U.S. troops deployed to help are subject to quarantine upon returning from affected countries in West Africa, even though they are not treating patients.

“It’s impossible for the American people to understand why the government would have one standard for the military, yet another standard for people who may have been in the same or possibly more perilous circumstances,” he said.

Recent data suggest the fatality rate from Ebola is slowing in West Africa, although aid groups warn of cross-border flare-ups in countries such as Mali.

Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testified Tuesday the disease still affects 13 of Liberia’s 15 counties, and hundreds of new cases are cropping up each week.

Fearing new cases in the U.S., National Nurses United said Tuesday the Occupational Safety and Health Administration should use its authority to order every hospital in America to provide “optimal” protective gear against the virus, which infected two Dallas nurses who treated Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who brought Ebola to the U.S. and later died.

The union wants nurses who treat Ebola patients to have full-body protective suits that cannot be penetrated by blood or viruses, and powered air respirators that fully protect the face, head and neck.

OSHA can require employers “to fully protect nurses and other employees who may face exposure to Ebola,” the agency said in an email to The Washington Times. “These protections include compliance with CDC’s guidance.”

The agency did not say if it plans to issue the type of guidance the nurses demand, although Dr. Frieden told Congress the CDC has stockpiled protective suits and can dispatch them to any hospitals within hours of a reported case.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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