SHAFAQNA – A growing number of Democrats are pressuring President Obama to ban flights to Ebola-ravaged countries despite repeated warnings from global health leaders that closing borders could accelerate the crisis. A group of 27 lawmakers, including three Democrats, signed a letter Wednesday urging Obama to ignore health officials and immediately halt flights from the West African countries worst-affected by Ebola. The lawmakers accused Obama of attempting to “pass the buck” onto organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO), which have advised against travel bans. Obama has said he would not ban travel unless the WHO reversed its position.
“[The WHO] has no duty to protect the lives and well-being of Americans, as you do. Furthermore, it has utterly failed to stem the epidemic through its own action. The responsibility for this decision is yours, not theirs,” they wrote.
The three Democrats — Reps. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa) – are among the growing handful in their party who have publicly criticized the Obama administration’s response to Ebola.
Sinema faces a tough reelection challenge from Wendy Rogers, a retired Air Force pilot.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla) also called for travel bans earlier this week, joining dozens of Republicans who have urged for similar action.
Fifty-eight percent of people support travel bans as a way of stopping the spread of the virus, according to a survey of nearly 1,000 people released Thursday.
Ebola has killed more than 3,300 people over the last year, but concerns were not widespread in the U.S. until August, when several infected Americans were brought home for treatment.
Those fears escalated in late September, when a Liberian man was diagnosed with the disease after flying to Dallas. The patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, died Wednesday.
In their letter, the lawmakers also told Obama to consider quarantining passengers who may have been exposed to ensure they are not infected.
Ebola symptoms can take up to 21 days to appear — a dormancy period that allowed Duncan to enter the U.S. undetected. Ebola patients are not contagious until symptoms arise.
Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), who signed the letter, said quarantines could be a necessary step to protect the public.
“My constituents and I do not want to begin the venture of quarantining those living in our country. Unfortunately, by allowing travel to and from countries that have been infected with this deadly virus, we could be heading in that direction,” Ross said in a statement Thursday.
“This is the only way to ensure the health, safety and welfare of the United States and its citizens is preserved,” Ross said.
The White House has already taken steps to address some of the lawmakers’ demands.
The Department of Homeland Security announced Wednesday that five of the nation’s busiest airports will soon begin more active screening for passengers arriving from West Africa. About 95 percent of all travelers from those areas — fewer than 200 people per day — will pass through those airports.
As part of the new precautions, trained workers will measure each person’s body temperature and ask questions about possible exposure to the deadly virus.
While the State Department has issued warnings against nonessential travel to affected countries, federal health authorities say the U.S. will not ban travel.
Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have repeatedly warned that travel bans could hinder the international response to the crisis.
CDC Director Tom Frieden said global travel restrictions would make it harder for health authorities to contain the epidemic in West Africa, increasing the risk that the disease could spread.
The airline trade group, Airlines for America, has also maintained that commercial airplanes pose no Ebola threat.
“We think that air travel is totally safe and people should keep getting on airplanes, if you look at the facts of how the disease is communicated,” the organization’s president Nicholas Calio said in a speech Thursday.