U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney demands answers from Obama administration on Ebola threat

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Congressman Tom Rooney is demanding answers about the U.S. response to mounting threats from the deadly Ebola Virus.

The Okeechobee Republican sent a letter on Tuesday to President Barack Obama and Cabinet officials, where he called for a bipartisan effort to take all necessary action to stop the spread of the disease.

Now that the U.S. is facing two “very different but grave national security threats – the spread of Ebola from West Africa and the growth of ISIS in the Middle East,” Rooney said, he is calling on Obama to present “comprehensive response plans and authorization requests to combat these crises.”

Rooney, who represents South Florida’s 17th congressional District, also recommended Congress return to work immediately to address the crisis.

Rooney sent copies of the letter to Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden.

“My constituents are afraid, and few have confidence that the Administration’s response has been sufficient,” Rooney said, then adding a series of questions he wants to be answered:

  • What’s the next step to prevent exposing Americans to the disease?
  • Why isn’t the Administration at least restricting tourist travel to and from Ebola-stricken countries?
  • How do we account for individuals that aren’t stopped for screening or pass airport screening procedures because they’re not yet exhibiting symptoms?

“No one wants to stop humanitarian and medical assistance from reaching West Africa,” he said. “But I fail to see any national security or humanitarian reason for allowing high-risk individuals – like Mr. (Thomas Eric) Duncan – to enter our country for purely tourist reasons while the disease is uncontained.”

Duncan, a Liberian man who became the first confirmed Ebola patient in the U.S., died in Texas Oct. 8. He had come to the United States from West Africa to visit family in Dallas.

Rooney also asked for a justification on approval of B-2 tourist visas for people from countries hit hardest by the Ebola outbreak. He also wants to know how agencies are responding to the approximately 21-day gap between when individuals contract the Ebola virus and when they begin to show symptoms, particularly those entering the United States from West Africa.

“Rather than issuing an outright refusal on further travel restrictions to and from West Africa, the U.S. should explore every feasible and available option to restrict all non-essential travel,” Rooney wrote.

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Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.