Washington (CNN) — As more questions mount about what measures should be in place to fight the spread of Ebola in the United States, a House panel has called the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other Obama Administration officials to a hearing on Capitol Hill on Thursday.
CDC Director Thomas Frieden will likely face a series of tough questions from members of both parties about why his agency failed to put clearer procedures in place to track those exposed to the virus, as well as its assessment that most hospitals were equipped to handle Ebola patients.
A second health care worker was diagnosed with Ebola on Wednesday. Amber Vinson, 29, works as a nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, where Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan was treated. Duncan died last week. But many are questioning how Vinson was able to board a commercial flight and travel back and forth to Ohio after she was being monitored as part of the team that cared for Duncan.
Vinson was moved from Dallas to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta on Wednesday, where two others who contracted Ebola were treated. But Frieden said that Vinson should never have traveled on a commercial plane.
Nina Pham, a nurse who also treated Duncan, was the first at the Dallas Hospital to be diagnosed with Ebola, but her condition has improved, and she continues to be treated in Dallas.
President Barack Obama canceled campaign travel on Wednesday to meet with Frieden, and top Administration officials at the White House. Afterward he said monitoring of those potentially exposed must be done in a “much more aggressive way.” The president, who also canceled his travel for Thursday, also said the CDC will dispatch rapid response teams as soon as a case of Ebola is reported.
Before the President spoke about stepped up procedures, Pennsylvania Republican Rep Tim Murphy, who chairs the panel convening Thursday’s hearing, indicated that he was concerned the plans in place to date were insufficient.
“So far, traveler self-reported screening procedures and hospital infection control measures have been demonstrated failures. The public is anxious for the Administration to execute a domestic plan that covers all aspects of public health protection, and we stand ready to assist in accomplishing this critical goal,” Murphy said in a written statement.
Another Pennsylvania House Republican, Rep Tom Marino, called on Frieden to step down as CDC Director on Wednesday. Marino said the Ebola situation is “spiraling out of control” and added that “the information provided to the public has been cryptic and in some cases misleading. This has provided a false sense of security to many of our citizens.”
Marino also joined a growing list of Members of Congress — mostly Republicans — who are calling for the Administration impose a travel ban on those travelling to and from nations in West African dealing with the Ebola outbreak.
House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement late Wednesday, “A temporary ban on travel to the United States from countries afflicted with the virus is something that the president should absolutely consider along with any other appropriate actions as doubts about the security of our air travel systems grow.”
So far Administration officials have cautioned that putting a ban in place could complicate the ability to get supplies and personnel to the affected region, and make it harder to stop the spread of the disease.
The Texas hospital where Duncan was treated has been criticized for how it responded to Duncan’s symptoms, and for failing to put protocols in place to protect those health care workers who came in contact with him.
In prepared testimony, Daniel Varga, the Chief Clinical Officer for the Texas company that includes Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, apologized to the House committee.
“Unfortunately, in our initial treatment of Mr. Duncan, despite our best intentions and a highly skilled medical team, we made mistakes. We did not correctly diagnose his symptoms as those of Ebola. We are deeply sorry,” Varga said.
With just twenty days left before the midterm elections the federal government’s response to the Ebola outbreak has become an issue in some competitive congressional races.
Colorado Republican Congressman Cory Gardner, who is locked in a competitive race for the Senate against Democratic Senator Mark Udall, will travel back to Washington on Thursday to attend the hearing. The number three House GOP leader, Louisiana Rep Steve Scalise, is also planning to come back to Washington for the hearing.