POLITICS
10/24/2014 06:50 pm ET

Congress Says The CDC Can't Be Trusted On Ebola

WASHINGTON -- Members of Congress took the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to task at a hearing on Ebola Friday, hammering the agency over how it has handled the virus's presence in the United States.

The hearing came a day after Craig Spencer, a doctor in New York City, tested positive for Ebola, becoming the first confirmed case in the state. Only three other people have been diagnosed with the disease in the U.S., including Thomas Eric Duncan, who contracted Ebola in Liberia, and two nurses who cared for Duncan after he became ill in this country. Both nurses were declared disease-free this week. The CDC has tightened its guidelines for health care workers treating Ebola patients following criticism that the nurses got infected because the original guidelines were insufficient. No health care workers in the United States have gotten sick since the new guidelines were issued, the CDC notes, and the protocol may soon be strengthened again.

Nevertheless, many members of Congress declared that the government's response to Ebola has been a failure.

Asked outside of Friday's hearing whether the CDC's response has been appropriate, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) told The Huffington Post: "If you believe, as I do, part of the role of the CDC is to provide accurate, timely, complete, thorough information to the public, the answer would be no. Their information hasn't been all that much better than what I could have provided, and I didn't go to medical school for four years."

Earlier this month, CDC Director Tom Frieden said that a travel ban to countries battling Ebola would make the outbreak worse. Medical experts reiterated that point on Friday.

Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) nonetheless told HuffPost that he supports a travel ban for the affected countries, with some exceptions, such as for medical personnel. He said that Spencer "should have been monitored much more closely. I don't think he was careful enough, I don't think I would have ridden the subway." When speaking about the CDC's response, Farenthold remarked, "If you screw up, admit it, take the blame and move forward."

Democrats also had some criticism for the agency. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D- Va.) told HuffPost, "I think they have some real catch-up to do in re-establishing their credibility."

Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), addressing Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Nicole Lurie as well as other medical and military experts testifying about the U.S. response, predicted that the experts would be wrong in their recommendations, particularly where travel is concerned.

"I don't think it helps to say 'we've got an aggressive thing on the ground, everything is good.' Because I've got a feeling you’re going to come back and give us a whole different story," said Lynch, who advocated for not only monitoring travelers from West Africa for 21 days after they return, but quarantining them in West Africa for an additional 21 days before they can fly to the United States.

The officials told Lynch that such a plan would be impractical because people can simply take roundabout routes home. They also said that an extensive quarantine would make it much harder to recruit desperately needed health care workers to fight the outbreak at the source.

"It would go against our ability to fight Ebola in West Africa," said Rabih Torbay, a vice president at International Medical Corps, which helps bring doctors into the disease zone.

During the hearing, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) fumed at Lurie and argued that the United States had proven to be unprepared for Ebola.

"Are you in charge of being prepared? OK, then I think you need to turn your resignation in," said Mica, waving a report on preparedness at Lurie. The report did not concern Lurie's agency, but rather efforts by the Department of Homeland Security.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) suggested during the hearing that America had lost trust in the scientists and medical officials. "We trust the military more than the CDC on this," he said.

But at least one member said the CDC was doing a great job -- Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), whose district includes the hospital caring for the latest U.S. Ebola patient. She said that she is "proud" of the CDC's response as she's observed it in New York.

"I'd give them an A-plus," she told The Huffington Post. "So far."

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