(Bloomberg) — President Barack Obama said the government is forming rapid response teams of health specialists who can be on-site within 24 hours anywhere a patient is diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S.
As public concern over the spread of Ebola rises following the infection of two nurses in Dallas, Obama said the government is working to ensure that hospitals have proper protocols and training in place to contain the disease.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also is reviewing every step taken at the Dallas hospital that treated a Liberian man who has since died of Ebola, to determine what went wrong, he said.
“We are taking this very seriously at the highest levels of government,” Obama said today at the White House after meeting with members of his Cabinet and other officials involved in the Ebola response. “We are going to be able to manage this particular situation, but we have to look toward the future.”
Obama postponed a campaign trip to New Jersey and Connecticut to hold the meeting, which was scheduled hours after discovery of the second case of Ebola contracted in the U.S. and the revelation that the worker took a commercial flight from Cleveland just before becoming ill.
The disease now has infected a small number of health care workers in the U.S. and Europe stemming from an epidemic in West Africa, which has killed more than 4,000 people, almost all of them in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. CDC Director Thomas Frieden said today officials are “planning for additional cases in the coming days” in the U.S.
The administration is coming under pressure to put more resources toward preventing the spread in the U.S., including more federal help for local hospitals that might deal with infections. Some Republicans have urged Obama to act, whether by appointing an Ebola czar to oversee the response, replacing Frieden or banning U.S. entry of travelers from West Africa.
Frieden attended the White House meeting via videoconference. Other participants included Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.
Obama sought to reassure the public that U.S. has the knowledge and capability to keep the virus in check. He said he understood that health care workers in Dallas and other members of the public are scared.
“We will make sure that on a day to day basis we provide the public with any information they need,” he said. “Widespread Ebola in this country is unlikely.”
Representative Pete Sessions, whose Texas district includes the Dallas hospital where the workers were infected, and Pennsylvania Representative Tom Marino, both Republicans, today called for Frieden to step down.
Marino said the Ebola situation “is beginning to spiral beyond control” and the CDC chief has failed in his job to inform the public “clearly and honestly.”
Marino was one of 27 House lawmakers — 3 Democrats and 24 Republicans — who signed an Oct. 8 letter to Obama calling for a ban on individuals entering the U.S. from the worst-affected countries in West Africa.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said today that Obama has confidence in Frieden and that the administration isn’t considering a travel ban “at the moment.”
“Shutting down travel to that area of the world would prevent the expeditious flow of people and equipment into the region,” he said at a briefing.
The depth of the concern was indicated by Obama’s decision to put off today’s political trip. The president has been criticized in the past for going forward with golf games and fundraisers even as he deals with crises.
Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican who was criticized by Democrats in his state for leaving for a trade mission to Europe, said today he is cutting his travel short and returning home.
The president discussed the outbreak earlier today in a videoconference with U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
U.S. health officials have been bracing for more Ebola cases after a Liberian man who had traveled to the U.S. in September died in a Dallas hospital on Oct. 2.
Two health-care workers who had contact with him have been diagnosed with the virus, the latest confirmed early today. U.S. health officials said the second infected health-care worker flew between Cleveland and Dallas hours before she reported symptoms.
Obama has held a series of meetings, briefings and phone calls with senior aides, health officials, state governors and heads of state in recent weeks amid deepening concern over Ebola in the U.S.
The U.S. is sending as many as 4,000 military personnel to the region to assist the effort. Among other tasks, they will help aid agencies by moving equipment, building treatment centers and training health-care workers.
Major General Darryl Williams, the U.S. Army commander for Africa, said today about 600 U.S. military personnel are in Liberia assisting. The U.S. also has committed almost $1 billion to the effort.
In public remarks, Obama has tried to reassure Americans that there would not be a major outbreak of Ebola in the U.S.
“The chances of an Ebola outbreak here in the United States are extremely low,” Obama said Sept. 16 after meeting officials at CDC headquarters in Atlanta.