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State Lawmakers Seek Ebola Case Answers

State senate committee holds Ebola hearings

State lawmakers today demanded details about how the first U.S. diagnosed case of Ebola has been handled. The CDC is working on new screening procedures for air travelers.

Meanwhile, Ebola patient remains in critical condition at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. He’s on a ventilator and is undergoing kidney dialysis.

At a state senate committee hearing, Dr. Kyle Janek with Texas Health and Human Services was first to field questions about state and local response to the appearance of Ebola in Dallas. Janek says he has confidence in the response team to treat Thomas Duncan. The same team is monitoring 48 people at risk of exposure. He admitted the effort has not been perfect.

“We can automate a lot of things.  We can make computers pop up certain notices and so forth. But at the end of the day, the backbone of this public health system relies on human beings," Janek told the committee. "And as such, I can tell you just as confident as I am that we are in good hands, I can tell you that a misstep can have consequences.” 

Senator Larry Taylor failed to get more explanation about Duncan’s first trip to the hospital’s ER, two days before he arrived by ambulance.

“You can understand I am still concerned about the screening process in the first incident where someone said they were from Liberia and they were presenting with fever and they were sent home," Taylor said.

Texas Health Presbyterian’s chief of critical care Dr. Gary Weinstein appeared before the committee. 

“The events preceding his current admission are being thoroughly reviewed," Weinstein said. "The results of that review will be made available once they are compiled.”

Earlier at Dallas County Commissioner’s Court, Commissioner John Wiley Price defended the county health department’s handling of the Ebola case. He says Duncan was sent home from the ER initially because of his race.

“If a person who looks like me shows up without insurance, they don’t get the same treatment,” Price said.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins responded he’s not looking in the rear view mirror at this point.

“I’m not interested in doing an analysis of the past," Jenkins said.  I’m interested in doing better every 15 minutes. Containing the virus and that it doesn’t spread.”

At an afternoon news conference, Dr. Thomas Friedman, director of the Centers for Disease Control promised new screening protocols for air travelers.

“We’re not today providing the steps that we plan to take, but I can assure you that we will be taking additional steps and we will be making those public in the coming days once we can work out the detail,” Frieden said.

Dr. David Lakey, Department of State Health Services Commissioner says this week is critical.  It’s the time when we could begin to see additional Ebola cases. Lakey says Dallas is ready to handle it. 

Former KERA reporter BJ Austin spent more than 25 years in broadcast journalism, anchoring and reporting in Atlanta, New York, New Orleans and Dallas. Along the way, she covered Atlanta City Hall, the Georgia Legislature and the corruption trials of Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards.