WASHINGTON (AP) — Government health officials in the United States made “false assumptions” about the country’s level of preparedness to handle Ebola cases here, a Republican House chairman charged Thursday, as the officials prepared to defend their response at a congressional hearing.
Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, chairman of a House oversight subcommittee, said it appears hospitals were not ready, people were not properly trained and health care workers did not have the proper protective gear.
“I think there were some missteps made in assumptions of our country’s level of preparedness,” Murphy said on MSNBC ahead of the hearing he was to chair. “And assumptions can get you in a lot of trouble, especially false assumptions.”
Leaders of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health were scheduled to testify before Murphy’s panel.
The hearing come as anxiety levels in the U.S. rise about prospects of the deadly Ebola virus spreading widely in this country, something public health officials insist will not happen. Two nurses tested positive after caring for a patient in Dallas who died of the disease, and one of them was cleared by the CDC to travel by plane after registering a slightly elevated fever, officials disclosed on Wednesday.
Lawmakers promised tough questions on hospital protocols and travel restrictions. Murphy was among those suggesting a partial travel ban for people who’ve been in West Africa, where more than 4,000 people have died in an epidemic that’s raging out of control.
In prepared testimony Thursday, CDC head Dr. Thomas Frieden said he remains confident Ebola is not a significant threat in the U.S.
“Despite these latest incidents, we remain confident that our public health and health care systems can prevent an Ebola outbreak here,” Frieden said.
There was the prospect for partisan squabbling at the Capitol Hill faceoff, with midterm elections less than a month away and lawmakers raising complaints about funding levels at the CDC and NIH. President Barack Obama canceled travel plans to stay at the White House and oversee government’s response to the Ebola problem.