President Obama Wednesday that the dangers of a widespread Ebola outbreak in the United States are "extraordinarily low," pointing to his own contact with medical personnel treating a patient infected with the virus.
Speaking to reporters after a meeting with cabinet secretaries and other top federal officials, Obama said Ebola is being "taken very seriously at the highest levels of government," but stressed that the risk of infection for the average American remains very low.
Obama said he had been in close contact with nurses at Emory University hospital who cared for two American Ebola patients.
"I shook hands with, hugged and kissed not the doctors, but a couple of the nurses at Emory, because of the valiant work that they did in treating one of the patients. They followed the protocols, they knew what they were doing, and I felt perfectly safe doing so," he said.
The president stressed that Ebola is not spread as the flu is, by way of sneezes or coughs. The virus is only spread by direct contact with the bodily fluids of someone who was infected and is exhibiting symptoms of the virus, which include a fever and vomiting.
Obama said it is necessary to stop the virus at its source in order to prevent it from spreading globally, stressing the importance of an international response to stop the virus in the three countries most affected by the outbreak: Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. On Wednesday, the president video-conferenced with British, French, German and Italian leaders. earlier this week, he spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and French president Francois Hollande.
"I am absolutely confident that we can prevent a serious outbreak of the disease here in the United States, but it becomes more difficult to do so if this epidemic of Ebola rages out of control in west Africa," Obama said. "If it does, then it will spread globally in an age of frequent travel and the kind of constant interactions that people have across borders."
Obama announced that "SWAT teams" from the CDC would be deployed within 24 hours to any hospital that reports a new case of the disease as a way to help hospitals that do not have experience dealing with Ebola.
The meeting, hastily convened after a second health care worker was diagnosed with the virus, was attended by about 20 officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Attorney General Eric Holder. Obama canceled a planned campaign trip to New Jersey and Connecticut in order to hold the meeting.
The two health care workers diagnosed had tended to a man who died of Ebola in Dallas. The man, Thomas Eric Duncan, contracted it in his native Liberia and then flew to the United States.
Officials said the second health care worker diagnosed flew from Cleveland to Dallas Monday, the day before she spiked a fever, one of the symptoms of Ebola.
Obama said officials are going to be reviewing "every step" of Duncan's care and will communicate lessons learned. They'll be looking at "how we’re going to make sure that something like this is not repeated and that we are monitoring, supervising, overseeing in a much more aggressive way" what happened in Dallas initially and "making sure that the lessons learned are then transmitted to hospitals and clinics all across the country."
An increasing number of lawmakers have been calling for Obama to institute a travel ban to and from affected West African countries. House Speaker John Boehner echoed that call Wednesday evening.
"A temporary ban on travel to the United States from countries afflicted with the virus is something that the president should absolutely consider along with any other appropriate actions as doubts about the security of our air travel systems grow," Boehner said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.