To help contain the current outbreak of the Ebola virus, Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Ranking Member John Thune (R-South Dakota) and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania) today called for a temporary travel ban from affected West African countries. Additionally, Thune and Shuster have asked the U.S. Departments of Transportation and Homeland Security to provide an accounting of their plans to help protect the public from the transmission of the Ebola virus or any other infectious disease via the nation’s transportation network. In their October 14th letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Thune and Shuster point out that our national and international transportation networks are vital to the function of our economy and the American way of life, but that the recent events in Texas have tragically shown that these same networks can also serve as conduits for dangerous pathogens such as the Ebola virus.
“With Ebola spreading even within the hospital setting, we should not delay in taking additional measures to prevent individuals carrying the virus from traveling to the U.S. We believe a temporary travel ban for such individuals who live in or have traveled from certain Western African countries is reasonable and timely,” said Ranking Member Thune and Chairman Shuster. “Additionally, we sent a letter yesterday to Secretaries Foxx and Johnson requesting detailed information about their plans and protocols to prevent further transmission of Ebola and other infectious diseases within the U.S., especially given our interconnected transportation network. It is the job of the Congressional oversight committees to ensure that the administration is doing everything it can to address such threats.”
Thune and Shuster’s request to the departments yesterday states, “While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintains that the risk of an Ebola outbreak in the United States is remote, we are concerned that even a relatively limited number of cases within the United States could result in harmful disruptions to our economy and society. As such, we believe it is important that we thoroughly and dispassionately assess the federal government’s readiness to prevent or mitigate the harms associated with pandemics.” The letter requests the following information:
1. A full accounting of your Departments’ efforts to date to prevent the further introduction of the Ebola virus into the United States from West African “hot spots” and any other regions from which the virus might enter the United States.
2. A description of your Departments’ efforts to coordinate Ebola screening processes at key international transit points between the United States and West Africa with counterpart agencies in other nations.
3. A description of contingency plans your respective Departments have developed to prevent transmission of the Ebola virus or other infectious pathogens within the United States.
4. A description of your efforts with transportation companies and their employees to detect and prevent the spread of infectious diseases including the Ebola virus.5. A description of contingency plans developed to combat infectious diseases more easily transmissible than Ebola virus, such as airborne pathogens.