DALLAS — Ebola has haunted Dallas for two weeks, killing one man and infecting a nurse who was treating him.
In hindsight — CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden said on Tuesday — the nation’s health protection agency should have stepped in and taken control when the country’s first Ebola case emerged in Dallas.
“Getting it right is really, really important because the stakes are so high,” Frieden said during a news conference. “We could have sent a more robust hospital infection control team and been more hands on with the hospital from Day One about how this should be managed.”
From now on, Frieden said, the CDC will rush a team of infectious disease specialists to assist U.S. hospitals that confirm having a case of the deadly Ebola virus.
“We will put a team on the ground within hours with some of the world's leading experts in how to take care of and protect health care workers from Ebola infection,” Frieden said. “I wish we had put a team like this on the ground the day the first patient was diagnosed.”
Instead, the CDC repeatedly assured the public that Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas could aptly treat the first case of Ebola that was diagnosed in the United States.
Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian citizen who had recently traveled from Ebola-ravaged West Africa, died at the hospital last Wednesday.
Two days after his death, Nina Pham, a critical care nurse who had treated Duncan, felt a fever and was isolated at Texas Health Presbyterian. Her positive test for Ebola marked the first transmission of the virus in the United States. A hospital spokesperson said Pham was in good condition late on Tuesday.
Texas Health Presbyterian officials have said Pham, 26, wore protective clothing and insist staff followed safety precautions issued by the CDC.
How Pham, a nurse for four years, contracted Ebola hasn’t been determined, but Frieden has said he believes there was a breach in safety procedures.
For that reason, the CDC director said he regrets not having his experts on the ground sooner.
“That might have prevented this infection,” he said. “I am thinking of her constantly and hoping for her steady recovery.”
Several prominent lawmakers have recently pressed President Obama to name an “Ebola czar” to oversee the government’s response, but White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest dismissed the notion on Tuesday.
Asked if Frieden still retains the president’s confidence, Earnest replied, “He does.”
Texas Health Presbyterian, which has received criticism for its handling of Duncan's case, did not immediately reply to an email seeking comment about Frieden's remarks from Tuesday.
Since Pham’s diagnosis, Frieden said he has fielded phone calls from numerous health care providers who are worried that they aren’t prepared for Ebola.
“We are dealing with a disease that’s unfamiliar in the U.S.,” Frieden said. “Caring for Ebola can be done safely, but it’s hard. We want to make sure that the protocols that we have and the support that we have for health care workers are there on the ground so that we can assist.”
When Duncan was diagnosed on Sept. 30, the CDC sent a dozen epidemiologists to help local officials identify people who the man could have possibly infected. So far, none of the 48 individuals being monitored has become ill.
Another 76 health care workers from Texas Health Presbyterian are also now being monitored for Ebola symptoms, since they, like Pham, were involved in treating Duncan. Some of those staff members have begun expressing fears and requesting health checkups.
“We understand that there's a lot of anxiety among workers, and we want to calm their fears and to attack a case as quickly as possible,” Dr. David Lakey, Texas state health director, said at the news conference. “If symptoms are detected, those individuals will be isolated and very likely will be tested for Ebola. We really do want to err on the side of caution.”
(Yahoo News White House correspondent Olivier Knox contributed to this story.)