WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — President Barack Obama on Friday turned to a trusted adviser to lead the nation’s Ebola response as efforts to clamp down on any possible route of infection from three Texas cases expanded, reaching a cruise ship at sea and multiple airline flights.
Facing renewed criticism of his handling of the Ebola risk, Obama will make Ron Klain, a former chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden, his point man on fighting Ebola at home and in West Africa. Klain will report to national security adviser Susan Rice and to homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco, the White House said.
White House officials had initially resisted congressional calls to name a lead figure on Ebola, arguing that various agencies had distinct responsibilities, including the Centers for Disease Control, The Department of Defense, and the Department of Health and Human Services.
The White House is calling the new post an “Ebola response coordinator.”
In a statement, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer called Klain “an excellent choice.”
“He is smart, aggressive and levelheaded; exactly the qualities we need in a czar to steer our response to Ebola,” Schumer said.
Democrats say Klain is no stranger to handling crises. He was the top lawyer in the 2000 presidential recount involving the infamous “hanging chads.” Klain was also former chief of staff for Vice President Al Gore and Joe Biden.
The World Health Organization admitted to mistakes of its own in failing to contain the outbreak still spreading out of control in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Meanwhile, a cruise ship with a Dallas health care worker aboard who is being monitored for signs of Ebola did not receive clearance to dock in Cozumel, Mexico, a day after Belize refused to let the passenger leave the vessel.
Obama administration officials said the passenger handled a lab specimen from Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who died from Ebola at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital earlier this month.
Officials said the woman poses no risk because she has shown no signs of illness for 19 days and has voluntarily self-quarantined on the cruise ship, the Carnival Magic.
The cruise line said Friday that after not receiving clearance, the ship left Cozumel waters shortly after noon Friday with the goal of returning to its home port of Galveston Sunday morning as originally scheduled.
The Carnival Magic had also stopped in Belize but officials there would not allow the passenger to leave the vessel. In a statement, the Belize government said it had refused a U.S. government request to fly the woman home through the Belize City airport. Other passengers were allowed to disembark there.
“Out of an abundance of caution, the government of Belize decided not to facilitate a U.S. request for assistance in evacuating the passenger through the Philip Goldson International Airport,” the government’s statement said.
U.S. officials had been seeking ways to return the woman and her husband to the U.S. before the ship completes its cruise on Sunday.
Carnival said that the woman, a lab supervisor, remained in isolation “and is not deemed to be a risk to any guests or crew.”
“It is important to reiterate that the individual has no symptoms and has been isolated in an extreme abundance of caution,” Carnival Cruise Lines said in a statement. “We are in close contact with the CDC and at this time it has been determined that the appropriate course of action is to simply keep the guest in isolation on board.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Ebola isn’t contagious until symptoms appear. Ebola isn’t spread through the air like the flu; people catch it by direct contact with a sick person’s bodily fluids, such as blood or vomit.
Still, under tighter travel rules placed on the staff of a Dallas hospital where two nurses caught Ebola from Duncan, the woman shouldn’t be on the ship.
Doctors at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland said that a Dallas nurse, Nina Pham, brought there for Ebola treatment was very tired but resting comfortably Friday in “fair” condition.
“She is in good spirits. She is a highly intelligent, aware person who knows exactly what was going on,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The second nurse to contract Ebola, Amber Vinson, was being treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, as precautions related to her personal travel spiraled wider.
Passengers and crew aboard seven Frontier Airlines flights were affected, as well as a handful of people in the Akron, Ohio, area. An Akron bridal shop that Vinson visited was closed Thursday and shoppers were being contacted.
A CDC official said Vinson may already have had Ebola when she flew from Dallas to Ohio to visit relatives. The agency had earlier said Vinson didn’t become sick until the morning after she returned to Dallas.
Officials are investigating whether she had symptoms as far back as Saturday, Oct. 11, or possibly earlier, said Dr. Chris Braden of the CDC.
Police said Vinson stayed at the home of her mother and stepfather in Tallmadge, northeast of Akron, and the home has been cordoned off with yellow tape. Eight individuals in northeast Ohio were under quarantine, health officials said.
Frontier Airlines said it would contact passengers on seven flights, including two that carried Vinson and others afterward that used the same plane.
In Dallas, officials took a tougher approach toward monitoring dozens of health care workers who were exposed to the virus while treating Duncan.
The health care workers were asked to sign legally binding documents agreeing not to go to public places or use public transportation. The sanctions for anyone who breaks the agreement weren’t disclosed.
In New York, preparations are underway in case someone becomes infected here.
Newark Liberty and John F. Kennedy airports now have Ebola screenings in place for travelers arriving from the three West African countries hit hardest by the disease.
In addition, officials said public transportation systems including New York City subways and buses are on the alert for possible passengers carrying the virus.
Eight hospitals across the state have also been especially prepared with go-to teams who’ve been drilled in anti-Ebola protocols.
In Connecticut, preliminary test results for a Yale-New Haven Hospital patient with Ebola-like symptoms have come back negative.
“Due to an overabundance of caution, before we fully rule it out, we will wait for the CDC official confirmation of the test result,” the hospital said in a statement. “In the meantime we will continue to monitor the patient using all appropriate protocols and precautions in order to ensure the safety of our staff, patients and community.”
Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is ordering all hospitals in the state to test their preparedness to handle potential Ebola cases within the next week.
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