Six days after a man in Dallas became the first person in the United States diagnosed with Ebola, Gov. Rick Perry on Monday called on the federal government to establish enhanced screening procedures and set up quarantine stations at all U.S. points of entry to contain the spread of the virus.
The governor also announced the creation of the Texas Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response to make recommendations on how to better handle a potential outbreak of Ebola or other infectious diseases.
Perry said he stood by his statement last week that the “system is working as it should,” but he acknowledged there were errors made in dealing with the first U.S. case. He called for better coordination and a more robust response to the disease at all levels of government.
“There were mistakes made,” Perry said. “There will probably be mistakes made in the future as we go forward. I stand by the fact that the process is working. We don’t have an outbreak; we have one event that is being handled properly.”
Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in particular has come under fire for initially releasing the patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, even though a nurse recorded the fact that he was from the Ebola hot zone of Liberia.
There have also been questions about how closely officials were monitoring family members and others who had been in contact with the patient, along with criticism about delays and bureaucratic hurdles in cleaning up the contaminated Dallas apartment where Duncan was staying.
The task force, led by Dr. Brett Giroir, CEO of the Texas A&M Health Science Center, will develop a comprehensive plan to ensure Texas is prepared for a potential outbreak of Ebola and other infectious diseases.
The 17-member group, composed of scientists, physicians and public officials in the health and emergency response sectors, will work on new protocols and make at least two reports to the Texas Legislature — on Dec. 1 and Feb. 1 — while serving as an ongoing information and education resource for the public.
Perry and Giroir said the task force would look at the response to the Dallas case to see what went right and what didn’t.
“This is the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the United States,’’ Giroir said. “It would be foolish to believe that there would be no lessons learned.”
While the task force gets to work, Perry is urging the federal government to take immediate action. Though he rejected calls to halt flights from countries stricken with Ebola, he wants the feds to better screen and potentially isolate people who travel from those areas.
“We have the ability to track individuals all through the air transportation system,” Perry said. “I would suggest that we have screening in the United States at those airports of entry that are better suited than what I see today.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention already has quarantine stations at 20 major points of entry into the United States, including a quarantine station in the Dallas-Forth Worth Metroplex.
Perry said U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents should be tasked with screening people from areas where Ebola is known to be present, saying authorities should “take their temperatures” to see if they are running a fever and then take appropriate action — including quarantining them if necessary.
“These much-needed screening procedures will also necessitate fully staffed, prepared quarantine stations wherever people are entering the country, ready to care for anyone whose screening turns up a concern, helping to prevent contagions from entering this country,” Perry said.
Additional reporting by Alexa Ura.
Disclosure: Texas A&M University is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.