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Ebola Debate Emerges In Vermont's U.S. House Race

The Ebola virus has infected very few people in the United States, and none here in Vermont. But political debate about the disease has spread to the state’s congressional race. 

Incumbent Democrat Peter Welch and his Republican opponent Mark Donka have very different opinions about whether a travel ban is the best way to fight Ebola. 

The issue has come up  in Congressional races all across the country. With the strong support of GOP leaders, many Republican candidates are calling for a full  ban on travelers from West Africa. They say the ban is necessary to be sure there’s no further spread of the Ebola virus in the U.S.

"We were not going to have Ebola in this country either and guess what it is here, why not be overly cautious if anything," GOP U.S. House candidate Mark Donka

"It would create enormous difficulties for relief workers, it would create a lot of difficulty getting supplies in and out," Incumbent Democrat Peter Welch

Donka, who is hoping to unseat Welch, has adopted the GOP strategy.  

“It’s not something that you’re going to do forever but let’s wait and see until it’s under control. Right now it doesn’t seem to be under control,” said Donka. “We weren’t going to have Ebola  in this country either and guess what, it’s here. Why not be overly cautious, if anything?”

Welch said he understands why some people want to impose a travel ban but he said it’s a big mistake.

“The Doctors Without Borders, who have the best track record here, say that a travel ban would create more problems,” said Welch. “It would create enormous difficulties for relief workers, it would create a lot of difficulty getting supplies in and out, so I tend to take the medical advice here, and they’re the ones that have been on the front lines.”

The Obama Administration is requiring that all flights from West Africa land at one of five U.S. airports: New York, Atlanta, Washington, Newark or Chicago. Officials said this will ensure that all passengers can be screened. Donka thinks the plan will be ineffective.

“Since we’re already telling them these cities is where we’re testing, maybe instead they would fly to Montreal and then change their flight to a different airport where they wouldn’t be tested,” said Donka.

Welch said he thinks the President’s plan makes a lot of sense.

“We really do need to have screening and we have to have screening that works and screening that reassures the public.,” said Welch. “And the new steps the Administration has taken I think are going to fit that bill.”

Welch said he was disappointed in the way that the Centers for Disease Control responded to the initial cases of Ebola in Texas but he feels the agency has learned from its mistakes and now “has its act together.”

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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