Rand Paul plays up Ebola fears

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, is considering a 2016 bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

Story highlights

  • Rand Paul said the government is downplaying the Ebola
  • He says the U.S. should consider canceling flights from Ebola countries
  • Paul has concerns about U.S. troops going over to help
Sen. Rand Paul said Wednesday that experts and government officials are downplaying the Ebola threat, and he speculated whether the U.S. may end up with a "whole ship full" of American soldiers infected with the virus.
In two interviews the Kentucky Republican and ophthalmologist suggested that the U.S. consider canceling flights from affected countries, and that the border with Mexico is not secure enough to keep infected individuals out.
Speaking to conservative talk radio host Laura Ingraham, Paul questioned whether the Obama administration should carry out its plan to send 3,000 troops to Ebola hot zones in Africa.
"You also have to be concerned about 3,000 soldiers getting back on a ship. Where is disease most transmittable? When you're in a very close confines on a ship, we all know about cruises and how they get these diarrhea viruses that are transmitted very easily," he said. "Can you imagine if a whole ship full of our soldiers catch Ebola?"
At a Pentagon press conference, civilian officials said no decisions have been made about the procedures for troops returning to the U.S., even though some are already there, CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr reported.
Officials could not say if troops will be quarantined before they return home and if they fall ill how they would be evacuated from Africa. The military is considering converting transport aircraft for the possibility of quarantining troops if needed.
They say, however, that the troops will not come into direct contact with people ill with Ebola.
Paul, who's laying groundwork for a potential presidential campaign, said "we should not underestimate the transmissibility of this" and questioned the validity to what experts have said.
He said officials and the government are letting "political correctness" stand in the way of serious discussion about the threat.
"It's a big mistake to downplay and act as if 'oh, this is not a big deal, we can control all this.' This could get beyond our control," he said.
In a separate interview with conservative talk show host Glenn Beck, Paul expressed concern about the lack of security at the border, saying an insecure "border is not only a danger for national security purposes, it is also a danger for a world-wide pandemic should it occur."
He was also open to talking about canceling U.S. flights from countries where Ebola is rampant.
"If quarantine works within those countries, maybe the countries where it's (a problem), they will have to be quarantined from the rest of the world," he said.
The number of individuals treated for Ebola in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone surpassed 6,500, with more than 3,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.
The first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S. was identified Wednesday in Dallas. He started exhibiting symptoms after he flew into Liberia, an Ebola hot zone.
Experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the virus is contracted through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, and it doesn't spread through the air.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Wednesday that the Obama administration has the necessary "medical infrastructure" to treat the Ebola patient without his illness posing a significant risk to others.