CBSN

Obama: Keep Ebola fight in "perspective"

President Obama pleaded for "perspective" in the fight against Ebola Saturday, urging Americans to trust the scientific community and warning that "hysteria" and "fear" will only make it more difficult to ultimately stop the virus in its tracks.

"This is a serious disease, but we can't give in to hysteria or fear because that only makes it harder to get people the accurate information they need," he said in his weekly address. "We have to be guided by the science. We have to remember the basic facts."

The president disputed the notion that the U.S. is in the throes of an "outbreak" or an "epidemic" of the virus.

"We're a nation of more than 300 million people," he said. "To date, we've seen three cases of Ebola diagnosed here - the man who contracted the disease in Liberia, came here and sadly died; the two courageous nurses who were infected while they were treating him."

"Now, even one infection is too many," he added. "At the same time, we have to keep this in perspective. As our public health experts point out, every year thousands of Americans die from the flu."

As he has before, the president also emphasized the difficulty of catching Ebola, saying it's transmitted through direct contact with the body fluids of an infected person, not through the air like the flu virus. He noted that he met with an American Ebola survivor in the Oval Office and was not concerned about catching the disease.

Finally, "we know how to fight this disease," he said. "We know the protocols. And we know that when they're followed, they work."

The president said officials are "stepping up" efforts to contain any potential spread of the virus in the U.S, noting the deployment of additional personnel from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to Dallas and Cleveland, where the two infected nurses may have exposed others to the virus.

He also said officials were "sharing lessons learned" from the very public mistakes in Dallas, where the two nurses contracted Ebola and hospital staff initially failed to isolate the Liberian man who brought the virus stateside.

On Friday, the president named Ron Klain, a former chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden, as the government's Ebola response coordinator, the man responsible for synchronizing the efforts by various Cabinet departments and agencies to contain the virus.

Later Friday, the president and Texas Gov. Rick Perry named three other officials to manage efforts to identify anyone who may have come into contact with the virus in Dallas. Perry chose W. Nim Kidd, the chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, to oversee the statewide response.

The president appointed a FEMA coordinator, Kevin Hannes, to serve as Kidd's federal "counterpart," according to a White House official, and he tasked Adrian Saenz, an aide, with reporting to Klain and serving as the White House liaison in the matter.

The president mentioned the CDC's "rapid response teams" that will help hospitals implement the proper protocols in the event of an infection and the enhanced screening measures at airports designed to prevent the entry of any infected persons.

He again batted aside the idea of banning air travel from West Africa, where the outbreak originated and continues to spiral out of control. The idea has been floated in some quarters, but the president has said it would be counterproductive.

"Trying to seal off an entire region of the world, if that were even possible, could actually make the situation worse," he said Saturday. "It would make it harder to move health workers and supplies back and forth. Experience shows that it could also cause people in the affected region to change their travel, to evade screening and make the disease even harder to track."

And while the president pleaded for some perspective in efforts to contain the virus in the U.S., he continued to sound the alarm about the "raging" epidemic in Africa. There are currently over 500 U.S. troops assisting response efforts in Liberia, the locus of the outbreak, and the Pentagon plans to send 3,200 personnel to the region by the end of November.

"If we want to protect Americans from Ebola here at home, we have to end it over there," Mr. Obama said. "And as our civilian and military personnel serve in the region, their safety and health will remain a top priority."

In the weekly Republican address, New York congressional candidate Lee Zeldin said his heart goes out to all those affected by the Ebola epidemic, and he urged the president to take "every necessary step to protect the American people."

Zeldin, who's running against Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop in New York's 1st Congressional District, also called for the repeal of the president's health care law, and he urged continued attention to the problems at the Veterans Affairs medical system, which was rocked by scandal earlier this year after reports revealed crushing wait times and employee misconduct at several VA facilities around the country.