Rob Portman, a Republican, is a U.S. senator from Ohio. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
With the news that a Liberian citizen has been diagnosed with Ebola on U.S. soil, the Obama administration must finally act to ensure that the disease does not spread further.
For weeks, I have been calling upon the administration to take a robust, proactive approach to prevent Ebola from becoming a public health crisis here in the United States. These steps include appointing a single, accountable official to coordinate with the many agencies tasked with containing the Ebola epidemic, and moving from passive to active screening at U.S. ports of entry for all passengers traveling from countries with known outbreaks of Ebola.
These common sense steps, while not foolproof, would go far in preventing an outbreak of Ebola and assuring the American people that their leaders are not taking the threat of this disease for granted.
The recent case of Ebola in Dallas is instructive. Currently, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), under the direction of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), engages in "passive" screening for Ebola. This means that CBP only stops travelers who are showing symptoms of Ebola. Carriers of Ebola who are not yet showing symptoms could enter the country without so much as a question about their potential contact with the disease.
Instead, we rely on government officials from West Africa to ask those kinds of questions at the point of departure. If they fail to do so or if the person lies on their exit form, there is nothing to stop infected individuals from traveling to the United States.
This must change. Moving from passive to active screening would give the CBP the power to more thoroughly review international passengers before they are allowed into the United States.
Just as travelers are now asked where they have been, whether they are bringing in fruits or vegetables or have been in contact with livestock, travelers from West Africa would be asked if they were in contact with someone with Ebola, someone displaying symptoms of Ebola, or if they have any symptoms of Ebola. If the answer is yes or suspicions are raised, the passenger would be referred to CDC officials for additional questioning, medical screening and quarantine, if necessary.