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Welch Opposes Travel Ban From West Africa To Contain Ebola

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Angela Evancie
/
VPR/file
Peter Welch, shown here at a press conference in St. Albans on Oct. 10, attended a Congressional hearing in Washington, D.C. Thursday on the CDC's response to the Ebola outbreak.

Congressman Peter Welch says it would be a mistake to implement a travel ban from West Africa as a way to contain the spread of the Ebola virus in the United States.

Welch says the best public health strategy right now is to deploy  U.S. troops in Africa as part of an effort to contain this deadly disease at its source.

"The travel ban sounds like it would work but the danger is that folks will do an end run," Rep. Peter Welch on why he opposes a travel ban to the U.S. from West Africa

The response by the White House to the spread of the Ebola virus in this country has come under the close scrutiny of Congress.

On Thursday, the House Energy and Oversight committee took testimony on this issue. Welch is a member of the panel and participated in the hearing.

Some committee members are urging the White House to impose a strict travel ban for everyone who wants to enter this country from West Africa. Welch thinks implementing such a ban would be a big mistake.

“The travel ban sounds like it would work, but the experience from respected organizations like Doctors Without Borders is that the danger is that folks will do an end run,” said Welch. “So that you don’t know where their point of origin was and may actually come here legally but without having been monitored, without having been examined, without having had a medical exam.”

Instead, Welch says the United States should set up a comprehensive screening program for everyone who wants to come into the U.S. from West Africa.

“There’s about 700 people to 1,000 a week that travel from that region and we have to at minimum be doing very, very careful screenings and monitoring,” said Welch. “So that we can reduce and hopefully eliminate the risk of someone coming to the country bearing the disease.”

Welch argues that the best way to contain the spread of Ebola is to treat the disease at its source and that means waging an aggressive effort in West Africa.

“That’s why the American military is doing tremendous work in that region... to try to help those governments that don’t have any significant public health infrastructure to set up what’s necessary to contain it,” said Welch. “If we do that, everyone believes experience shows us that that’s the best way to keep it out.”

As he travels around the state, Welch says there’s no question that many Vermonters are very concerned about this issue.

“So there is an enormous fear because it’s a horrible death and the stories we’re reading about people who have this disease and suffer and die (and) a lot of concern about health care workers who are heroes really to be providing this treatment,” he said.

Welch says the Centers for Disease Control has enough money to deal with this crisis in the short term but he says Congress should allocate more emergency funds for the CDC in January.