- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 9, 2014

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said Thursday she is deeply involved — even if it’s not always on camera — in the nation’s response to the Ebola virus, exuding confidence that American know-how, travel screening and improvements in West Africa will beat back the deadly outbreak even if it gets worse before it gets better.

“The numbers are going to increase before we can get to a leveling off point,” she told reporters at an event hosted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the HealthAffairs publication.

Federal officials announced this week they will require temperature checks among travelers who arrive at five major American airports from the African countries most affected by the virus’ spread. The extra safeguard comes after airport screeners abroad were unable to stop the Liberian national who made it to Dallas on Sept. 20, tested positive for Ebola several days later and died early Wednesday.

However, “the most important place with regard to taking care of screening is actually at the place of departure,” Mrs. Burwell said.

Although Thomas Eric Duncan, the patient who died in Texas, made it to American shores, there had not been a case in the U.S. for months and 80 people had been “pulled from lines” from airports overseas, she said.

As fears of a U.S. outbreak mounted in recent weeks, Tom Frieden of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases have been the face of federal efforts to trace and contain potential infections.

Mrs. Burwell, who has been at the helm of HHS for nearly 100 days after replacing Kathleen Sebelius, pushed back at an assertion Thursday that her counterparts in the Bush administration had been more out-front on national crises during their tenure, while the secretary had taken a “backseat” on Ebola.

“I would like to understand the definition of a backseat,” she said. “I’ve had an Ebola meeting every single day since July 28.”

Mrs. Burwell said Dr. Frieden and Dr. Fauci had years of experience in fighting infectious diseases, so it made sense to have those experts in front of the cameras.

She also cited progress in West Africa in fighting the deadly outbreak. Nigeria used polio-tracing tactics it had in place to reduce Ebola’s spread, while U.S. military teams are instilling the type of command centers and medical infrastructure needed to make foreign aid workers “willing to come and serve there.”

In a cultural shift, West African populations are taking greater care in how they handle the bodies of loved ones who died from Ebola.

“That’s a place where we’re making progress,” she said. “And that has to be a behavioral change.”

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