Alexander, Corker Want More Focus on Ebola Preparedness

U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker met at CHI Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga Friday to participate in a roundtable discussion on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and what Tennessee has done to prepare in case the disease reaches the Volunteer State.

This is the third fact-finding roundtable Alexander said he’s been a part of.

The outbreak of the disease began in Guinea in December 2013 and has spread across West Africa, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

West Africa has had a total of 13,567 reported cases, with 4,960 fatalities. The U.S. has had two reported cases of Ebola from outside the nation’s borders, one resulting in fatality, and two “locally acquired cases in healthcare workers,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The United States has increased its Ebola-screening efforts at several international airports and sent civilian, military and humanitarian aid to the affected West African nations. In late September, Corker praised the deployment of troops from Ft. Campbell to Liberia to aid in the response efforts.

Alexander, ranking Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, told reporters a significant part of the disease’s threat comes from the possibility of those infected spreading the disease to the U.S. But there is also the threat that disease-ravaged West African nations could become safe havens for terrorists, he said.

Alexander said that while he’s “alarmed by what’s going on in Africa,” he’s been reassured about the preparedness of Tennessee hospitals after what he’s seen in his recent visits.

Corker, ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the federal government needed to “ramp up its efforts” to handle Ebola while it’s still in West Africa, and the best way for the U.S. to handle the issue domestically would be with a comprehensive national effort.

If the GOP wins the Senate Tuesday, Tennessee’s two senators will take over as chairmen of their respective committees.