Health News

Florida leaders call for stronger fed response to Ebola outbreak

TALLAHASSEE -- Three top Florida politicians stepped up their calls to action Thursday on the Ebola virus issue.

Gov. Rick Scott said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should contact more passengers on the plane carrying an Ebola patient the day before it stopped at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

"The CDC has already admitted that they have been slow to respond to developing cases of Ebola, and we do not want to take any risk of Ebola coming to Florida," Scott said in a statement. "Their immediate action to contact all these passengers is essential to explaining any potential health risks to themselves and their family."

Frontier Airlines announced later Thursday it would widen the circle of passengers contacted to seven flights -- not just the two flights originally targeted -- who flew in the same plane taken by a nurse found later to have Ebola.

Although no cases of Ebola have been reported in Florida, Scott joins Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Orlando, and Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, in calling for more proactive U.S. measures dealing with the incurable virus.

Florida, the third-most populous state in the country, is a hub for international travelers entering the United States

Nelson, senior member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees many aspects of international travel, was among the first to call for a travel ban on people coming into the United States from Ebola-affected regions. He said the latest developments, involving two health care workers in Dallas falling ill with the disease, show the need for an Ebola czar.

"This person should be at least temporarily based in a White House war room with direct authority from the president -- someone like former Surgeon Gen. Richard Carmona, who has the requisite medical background and who served in that position under former president George W. Bush," Nelson said in a press release Thursday.

President Barack Obama said Thursday an Ebola czar "might be appropriate."

Buchanan announced he will tour Sarasota Memorial Hospital to meet Friday with health officials, doctors and nurses to gauge the facility's readiness to treat an Ebola patient. Buchanan said he will discuss any needs officials have regarding federal resources and guidelines to safely combat the deadly virus.

The government should enforce travel restrictions based on tighter screening of people entering the United States from Ebola hotspots in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, Buchanan said.

"It makes sense for the government to conduct tighter screening of those trying to enter our country from Ebola-ravaged nations," Buchanan said.

The CDC has only issued a travel advisory warning Americans not to visit the three West African nations at the epicenter of the outbreak.

Scott's concerns centered around health care worker Amber Joy Vinson, who took a Frontier Airlines flight Monday from Cleveland to Dallas. She tested positive for Ebola the following day. The plane Vinson took went Tuesday to Fort Lauderdale.

Scott said he is not satisfied with the CDC response in regard to the Fort Lauderdale connection.

"I am asking them to expand their contacts to include all passengers traveling on that plane for the full 24 hours after Amber's flight," he said in the statement.

Scott has also asked the CDC for a conference call with public health officials in Florida and said additional supplies are needed, too.

"We asked the CDC for more testing kits," Scott told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Thursday. "We got three out of the 30 we asked for. We asked for more protective gear. We haven't gotten that yet so we purchased them on our own."

Scott, a Republican seeking re-election Nov. 4, will hold a press conference Friday morning at the Broward County Aviation Department in Dania Beach.

The Ebola outbreak is the worst in recorded history. The World Health Organization reports more than 4,500 have died from the epidemic, including 236 health care workers.

-- The Miami Herald contributed to this story.

Terry O'Connor, night metro editor, can be reached at