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New York Ebola Case Raises Questions About U.S. Readiness

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The two nurses who were infected with Ebola in a Dallas hospital are now free of the virus. Emory University Hospital in Atlanta made the announcement today about Amber Vinson. Earlier, Nina Pham left the National Institutes of Health in Maryland and met with President Obama, who embraced her. This good news comes a day after a doctor tested positive for Ebola in New York City. But that good news didn't stop the governors of New York and New Jersey from imposing their own mandatory quarantines on returning medical workers and others who have been exposed to Ebola in West Aftrica. And it didn't stop lawmakers from questioning the Obama administration's response to Ebola. NPR's Juanna Summers reports that was the focus of questions on Capitol Hill today.

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: Some lawmakers say the new Ebola case in New York City has exposed holes in the way potential new cases are handled. Dr. Craig Spencer tested positive for Ebola after recent trip to Guinea. His case prompted questions at a hearing today, like this one from Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz - should Spencer had been under mandatory quarantine?

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REPRESENTATIVE JASON CHAFFETZ: I don't understand why we wouldn't have put that travel restriction in place. Why we don't get a little bit more strict in putting quarantine - the self-quarantine didn't work. It didn't work in the case of Dr. Spencer.

SUMMERS: Spencer showed no symptoms until Thursday so temperature screenings in place at a handful of U.S. airports wouldn't have caught him. He rode New York subway, took a cab and went bowling before he was diagnosed with Ebola. Democrat Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts said anyone traveling to the U.S. from West Africa should be quarantined for 21 days before even being allowed to board a plane to the U.S.

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REPRESENTATIVE STEPHEN LYNCH: This can't be just about ideology and happy talk. We've got to approach this in a very deliberate manner and take it much more seriously than what I'm hearing here today.

SUMMERS: But Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummings says the government has made a lot of progress since a Liberian man entered a Dallas hospital with Ebola symptoms but was initially turned away.

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REPRESENTATIVE ELIJAH CUMMINGS: It appears that health care authorities have come a long way in preparing for Ebola since Thomas Duncan first walked into a Texas hospital last month.

SUMMERS: Republicans also criticized the president's choice of Ron Klane to oversee the federal response to Ebola in the United States. They say Klane, who's a lawyer, lacks a public health background. Here's South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy.

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REPRESENTATIVE TREY GOWDY: I mean, if this were an outbreak of people who don't have wills in West Africa or if this was an outbreak on contested elections in West Africa then I'd say yeah, go hire Mr. Klane but it's not. It's a medical crisis.

SUMMERS: Nicole Laurie, of the Department of Health and Human Services' point person on Ebola, defended the administration, saying they're evolving their policies and procedures quickly as they learn more about the disease. But she stressed while there is an epidemic of fear in the U.S., there is no epidemic of Ebola. Juanna Summers, NPR News, the Capital. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.