Would a Travel Ban Hurt or Help the Effort to Contain Ebola?


Saying that his office has "fielded many calls this week," Idaho GOP Congressman Raul Labrador is calling for a commercial travel ban to and from West Africa.

"I believe a bold step is necessary," wrote Labrador in a constituent letter released Thursday evening, saying that the ban would help "dispel unfounded fears."

Labrador joined 16 other Republicans in an October 8th letter to chiefs of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Aviation Administration for stronger travel safeguards.

But officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say a travel ban might cause another problem, rather than containing the one they know. CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden says authorities now can screen people on those flights rather than forcing would-be travelers to go around checkpoints and slip into the country undetected.

"Right now, we know who's coming," said Frieden. 

Simply put, if the U.S. were to mandate a travel ban from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, the three countries at the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak, it would need to begin banning flights from countries that haven't yet banned travel to the affected countries.

As an example, Thomas Duncan, who died from Ebola in a Dallas hospital, had traveled from Monrovia to Brussels before boarding a flight to the United States.

At the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest said a travel ban was not under consideration, and he suggested it could actually make things worse by giving people an incentive to "go underground," evade screening and conceal their travel history.

"And that means it would be much harder for us to keep tabs on these individuals and make sure that they get the screening that's needed," he said.

Meanwhile, Labrador says halting travel "will help contain the disease, dispel fear among Americans and give the government and health care providers time to take additional steps to prevent any further spread of the virus."