WASHINGTON -- The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Thursday that a nurse potentially exposed to Ebola checked with the agency before boarding a commercial flight this week.
"I have not reviewed exactly what was said, but she did contact our agency and she did board the plane," Tom Frieden told lawmakers during a congressional hearing.
Frieden had said during a Wednesday press conference that Amber Vinson, one of the nurses who cared for the man who died of Ebola at a Dallas hospital, should not have been allowed to get on a commercial flight on Monday. But a CDC spokesman subsequently said the agency had cleared Vinson to fly despite her slightly elevated temperature. A spokesman told the Associated Press Vinson's temperature was below the agency's threshold for not traveling. Officials confirmed Wednesday she had Ebola.
Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) pressed Frieden on exactly what Vinson said when she contacted the CDC before flying.
"I have not seen a transcript of the conversation," Frieden said. "My understanding is that she reported no symptoms to us."
Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Col.) asked if Vinson was told she could board the plane.
"That may well be correct," Frieden said.
DeGette asked Frieden to confirm that people being monitored for exposure to Ebola shouldn't board commercial aircraft, per CDC guidelines. Frieden suggested that in Vinson's case, it depends whether she wore the right gear when caring for Duncan.
"Health care workers with appropriate personal protective equipment don't need to be [travel restricted]," Frieden said. "But people without appropriate personal protective equipment do need to travel by controlled transportation."
It is a point of contention whether the nurses who cared for Thomas Eric Duncan, the man who died from Ebola last week in Dallas, had the right equipment. Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital insisted Thursday morning its nurses had the gowns, gloves and masks that the CDC recommended at the time; an advocacy group for nurses maintains their equipment left them exposed to the virus.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee did not settle that question on Thursday.
"Doctor, I need you and other doctors in Texas to get back to the committee and follow up the question," Murphy said. "The comments made to us was that if she was wearing appropriate gear, she's OK to travel. If she was not, she should not have traveled, and you told us, 'We don't know.' We have to find that out. It's an important question."