President Obama on Thursday was updated with information about a doctor who treated Ebola patients in Guinea, flew to New York more than a week ago and tested positive for the virus after being isolated in a Manhattan hospital with a fever and gastrointestinal illness.
The state’s Department of Health said the patient, a physician who worked in West Africa with the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders, was being treated at Bellevue Hospital, one of the state’s designated facilities with staff trained and equipped in the protocols recommended for suspected and confirmed Ebola cases.
Tests completed Thursday were positive for the hemorrhagic fever. Additional tests conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be used to confirm the initial result. The doctor, Craig Spencer, appears to be the fourth patient diagnosed with Ebola inside the United States.
An Ebola SWAT team from the CDC in Atlanta traveled to New York to exercise a beefed up regimen of care, one that has evolved dramatically since the country’s first and fatal case of the disease showed up in Dallas last month.
The CDC “surged” treatment experts to New York to help the patient and guide the health care workers responsible for his care. The CDC has established a new policy to bring experts to Ebola patients, and then transfer the stabilized patients to a handful of pre-trained and designated health facilities around the country, if necessary.
Obama “is aware and is being updated,” a senior White House official said Thursday night. The government’s new Ebola “czar,” Ron Klain, and other members of the president’s response team spoke with New York officials during the day.
“What we’re seeing is that the public health infrastructure and systems that we are now putting in place across the board around the country should give the American people confidence that we’re going to be in a position to deal with any additional cases of Ebola that might crop up without it turning into an outbreak,” Obama said Wednesday after meeting with Klain and other advisers on his Ebola response team.
Wednesday’s meeting was Klain’s first in his new coordination role.
In his public remarks, the president was upbeat about the status of patients who have been under U.S. care since the first “index” patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, flew from Liberia through Virginia and then to Texas while incubating the deadly virus. Two nurses contracted the disease from Duncan in Dallas, and one then traveled to Ohio and back to Texas before being hospitalized, which triggered Ebola-contact monitoring in Ohio.
Amber Vinson, the nurse who traveled aboard a Frontier Airlines flight to Cleveland, has been declared Ebola-free after being treated at Emory University Hospital. Her nursing colleague, Nina Pham, is listed in good condition at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland.
The new Ebola patient in New York was being monitored for symptoms after flying about 10 days ago from West Africa, where he was described as a medical “field worker” in Guinea. His route took him through Brussels and he arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport, one of the five U.S. airports now accepting commercial passengers originating from the three Ebola-infected West African countries, according to reports.
In lieu of a ban on such travelers, which the administration has resisted, passengers are now being screened for fevers, asked to provide travel itineraries and contact information upon entry to the United States, and then are monitored for up to 21 days for disease symptoms by state and local health authorities in six states, including New York.
For the last few days, Dr. Spencer felt increasingly unwell, according to media reports. Early Thursday, he reported his elevated temperature to Doctors Without Borders, the organization with whom he served, also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres. In a statement, the group said it then alerted the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Dr. Spencer’s contacts since leaving Africa are being traced, advised and quarantined where necessary.
It was Lisa Monaco, the president’s White House adviser for homeland security and counterterrorism, who addressed a nervous public Thursday night, noting on CNN that she spoke with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio about the new developments.
"The right steps are being taken," she said.
New Yorkers may express concern because Dr. Spencer visited a bowling alley Wednesday and used the subway and a taxi to move around the city.
Coordinator Klain, who previously served as Vice President Biden’s chief of staff during Obama’s first term, was hired a week ago as a federal consultant. He’s been tasked to manage the government’s Ebola response in the United States and in Africa for an estimated five to six months, for compensation similar to what he earned the last time he served in government.
Klain is not Obama’s Ebola communicator, but rather a fixer, working to leave his footprints inside the bureaucracy and not in the public consciousness.
During his first day of duty Wednesday, Klain lugged a large, three-ring binder of materials into the Oval Office to meet with Obama, Monaco, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell, and State Department Ebola coordinator Nancy Powell.
He nodded several times in affirmation as the president spoke with reporters after the meeting, but he said nothing, barely taking his eyes off his new boss. The New York Times put his photo on its front page Thursday, showing Klain seated to Obama’s left, his hands clasped.
An attorney who has worked in all three branches of government (and someone with deep Democratic ties), Klain is expected to visit the CDC next week, the White House said.
Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.
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