Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry reversed himself Friday and endorsed a temporary ban on travel to the United States from the West African countries where there is an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus.
He joined a growing chorus of more than 70 lawmakers from both parties, including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who want Congress to reconvene before the midterm elections to vote on a ban, even as President Barack Obama was lukewarm to the idea and federal health officials said such a ban might cause more problems.
Among the Democrats joining Republicans in calling for at least a limited ban was Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, a state senator from Fort Worth.
“With two Texans already infected by this terrible disease, we must do everything we can as a state and as a nation to ensure it remains contained and that families stay safe,” Davis said in a prepared statement. “A commonsense step that should be on the table includes a temporary travel ban for non-U.S. citizens from countries with high infection rates.”
The concern over the spread of the Ebola virus through all types of transportation mounted Friday with the quarantine of a Dallas hospital worker who has embarked on a Caribbean cruise after being involved in testing lab samples of Thomas Eric Duncan. In response, the state of Texas ordered those who have been under a 21-day watch for signs of the illness to stay off planes, boats and mass transit.
Texas is ground zero for the debate after the death of Duncan, the first U.S. Ebola patient, who checked into Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas after flying to the U.S. from Liberia.
Two nurses who cared for Duncan have now been diagnosed with the virus, and the discovery that one of them took flights has heightened tensions and sent federal officials scrambling to contact those on her trips from Dallas to Cleveland and back.
“Air travel is in fact how this disease crosses borders, and it’s certainly how it got to Texas,” Perry said at a news conference in Austin after cutting short a European trade trip. Earlier in the month, Perry had sided with the administration’s emphasis on screening procedures at the five U.S. airports that are the entry points for the overwhelming majority of travelers from West Africa.
Obama on Thursday had a measured response to the calls for a West African travel ban. “I don’t have a philosophical objection necessarily to a travel ban if that is the thing that is going to keep the American people safe,” he said.
“The problem is,” he told reporters in the Oval Office, “that in all the discussions I’ve had thus far with experts in the field, experts in infectious disease, is that a travel ban is less effective than the measures that we are currently instituting that involve screening passengers who are coming from West Africa.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Friday that the president has an “open mind” on a travel ban but that the administration is not currently considering one.
The president, bolstered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has said that a ban would increase the chances of people avoiding being forthcoming when questioned and hiding from where they had traveled.
The airline and cruise industries oppose a mandatory travel ban.
Also Friday, two U.S. House Republicans from Texas, Kenny Marchant of Coppell and Sam Johnson of Plano, announced they will introuce a bill Monday, the Stop Ebola Act, to ban travel to Ebola-infected areas.
“Our nation is behind the curve in combatting the domestic spread of Ebola,” said Marchant. “Containment efforts will remain inadequate if we rely solely on the reactive measures being taken by the administration. The Stop Ebola Act is a proactive approach to preventing additional travel-related cases of Ebola in the United States.”