Democratic congressman criticizes Ebola response

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WASHINGTON, D.C. ??? U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D) of Virginia???s 11th District ripped public health officials during an October 24 congressional hearing on Ebola for their reassurances regarding the risk to public health.

Connolly, a Fairfax County supervisor during the Anthrax scare in 2001, said he learned to ???never reassure the public when you don???t know.??? The same philosophy applies to Ebola, something with ???exponential??? potential for ???explosion,??? he said during the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing.

Connolly???s comments were directed at Dr. Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Connolly pointed out nurse Nina Pham???s recovery from Ebola wasn???t thanks to the protocols and guidelines at her hospital in Dallas, Texas.

???While CDC was giving us assurances of how hard it was to contract the disease ??? we???re pretty confident we???ve got things in place, so forth ??? two health care workers including Miss Pham came down with it,??? Connolly stated, and then asked Dr. Lurie ??????in retrospect do you think perhaps, not intentionally of course, but in a zeal to reassure the public, CDC misstepped?

Lurie acknowledged ???missteps??? before being cut off by Connolly, who explained that as the head of Fairfax County during the 2011 anthrax scare, ??????[O]ne rule I had was never reassure the public when you don???t know. Never do that, because when you do that you damage your credibility.???

Connolly went on to note that the CDC???s missteps had given political ammunition to the Obama administration???s critics.

Connolly also asked Lurie if HHS would welcome federal guidelines ??? stemming from congressional legislation ??? about standard protective procedures for health care workers. Lurie didn???t directly respond.

Deborah Burger, who also testified during the hearing and is co-president of National Nurses United, suggested there should be mandatory standards for safety across hospitals.

Burger also said, to the shock of at least one member of Congress, that it???s ???unrealistic??? to expect health care workers to exercise timely precautions in isolating themselves and reporting to a hospital upon suspecting they are experiencing Ebola symptoms.

So far, all but one of the small number of Americans diagnosed in the United States with Ebola have been health care workers who cared for Ebola patients. 

Kathryn Watson ( is an investigative reporter for the Virginia Bureau.