CDC director defends Ebola response: 'Our information is clear and correct'

This is a rush transcript from "The Kelly File," October 14, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

MEGYN KELLY, HOST: Earlier tonight I spoke with Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control.


KELLY: Sir, thank you very much for being here with us tonight. And so with the CDC, its heart in the right place but its information misplaced and wrong a few times now --

DR. TOM FRIEDEN, DIRECTOR, CDC: No, let me correct you on that. Our information is clear and correct. But we do look at what happens and we adjust as we need to.  We know how Ebola spreads. We know how to stop it. We know what is happening, and right now we're doing three things.

First, making sure that the care of that nurse is safe and effective. We have more than 20 staff on the ground who are working around the clock making sure that those who care for her do it safely and that she get the best possible care.

Second, we're making sure that if Ebola is found anywhere else in the country, we will put on to the ground immediately staff who can help the hospital do it right there.

And third, we're reminding doctors everywhere to think Ebola.  Because whatever you may think, we are an interconnected world.

KELLY: Understood. But when you say your information is clear and correct, that's not entirely true. I mean, you yourself assured the American public that we'll stop Ebola in its track. That hasn't quite happened here in the United States, has it?

FRIEDEN: We wish there hadn't been an infection. It's terrible that a health care worker got infected, but what we're doing is making sure that we stop the chains of transmission.

I think you have to step back and say, "Who is really at risk here?" Well, in West Africa there's a lot of risk. With the healthcare workers who are caring for Ebola patients, there's a risk and we'll work to minimize that and get it as low as possible.

KELLY: Well, I understand that. I understand that, sir, and I'm not blaming you for Ebola. Ebola is a disease that happens to be ravaging part of the world right now, and we're trying to stop it from coming on our shores and trying to stop it from spreading. And I realize that's your number one mandate right now.

But let's just be honest about where we are. I mean, you did make that assurance, and now we have had somebody die in the United States from Ebola. And now a nurse, a health care worker who you assured us that the health care workers would be trained and that they were prepared, has now got this disease. And has perhaps as much as a 50 percent chance of dying.

So, the American public looks at you and says, why should we trust you and why should we trust the administration when Barack Obama told us we are prepared if Ebola reaches our shores and that the medical personnel would be adequately trained?

FRIEDEN: The fact that a health care worker became infected in the care of a patient with Ebola is deeply troubling. What we have to do is take the facts where they are. We still know how to stop Ebola. We have cared for patients for decades with Ebola. We need to make sure that care is safe.

KELLY: OK. But understanding that, right, so already you admitted yourself that we've seen some flaws in the system, some areas that need improvement. And that's why you took steps today to offer some of those improvements. Why not put a travel ban in place until we've shorn up the system?

FRIEDEN: We've already recommended that all nonessential travel to these countries be stopped for Americans. We've already put into place screening at the airport where people are leaving and screening at airports where people are arriving here. We're always looking at ways that we can better protect Americans.

KELLY: But this is one -- ban -- a travel ban from West Africa until we are certain that our facilities here are up to the task and that our system has solved the flaws that you yourself admitted today exist.

FRIEDEN: Above all, do no harm. If we do things that are going to make it harder to stop the epidemic there, it's going to spread to other parts of the --

KELLY: How is it going to make it harder to stop it over there?

FRIEDEN: Because you can't get people in and out.

KELLY: Why can't we have charter flights?

FRIEDEN: You know, charter flights don't do the same thing commercial airliners do.

KELLY: What do you mean? They fly in and fly out.

FRIEDEN: For a week, I sat in Liberia while the Africa Union team that want to send hundreds of health care workers was stranded in Senegal because commercial airlines weren't traveling. If we isolate these countries, what's not going to happen is disease staying there. It's going to spread more all over Africa and we'll be at higher risk.

KELLY: How do you account for the fact that you called it a breach in protocol, the fact that this nurse has Ebola, this nurse who was wearing protective gear has Ebola now. How do you know it was a breach in protocol and not simply that the protocol itself was insufficient?

FRIEDEN: We know how Ebola spreads. We know how to stop it from spreading. But clearly, what happened at the hospital shouldn't have happened. So we're now looking at that and saying, OK, what's everything we can do to make sure that any time someone's caring for Ebola, their risk is kept to an absolute minimum.

KELLY: OK. But when I look at the CDC's website, it says that when you're putting on the protective gear as the medical personnel, and you know that the nurses have come out and complained that in some of these hospitals, they're just posting it on the bulletin board. "Hey, check the CDC's website to figure out how to deal with Ebola." And the nurses are saying, "Really? A life and death matter for me? This is insufficient."

But I looked at the website and it says, you are only supposed to wear one pair of gloves. And it says, you don't have to cover your head, you know, head gear, head cover, and you don't have to cover your feet. Now, wouldn't you admit that that is insufficient?

FRIEDEN: No. We know how Ebola spreads. It spreads by direct contact. And you know, sometimes more isn't better. You put on more layers, you put on more things, they're harder to get on. They're harder to get off.

KELLY: Really?

FRIEDEN: Yes, really.

KELLY: You would go into a highly infected Ebola patient's room without covering your head, with only wearing one pair of gloves and with your feet exposed? You would do that?

FRIEDEN: Absolutely. More is not always better. Better is better.  Sometimes you put on more layers, it's harder to put on, harder to take off, you increase your risk of exposure. That's what the science tells us.

KELLY: Well, on that front, it seems that the doctors who've been with this effectively always employ the buddy system. And that's something else that the CDC has recommended and yet it wasn't informed and it wasn't apparently told to the doctors at the Dallas Hospital that the buddy system is if you're the doctor handling the patient and I'm your buddy, I watch you put the stuff on, I watch you take the stuff off. I make sure that you're safe. Why wasn't that stressed to the doctors in Texas?

FRIEDEN: The single most important thing to do to keep Ebola care safe is to have a site manager, someone who tracks how people put on and takeoff their protective equipment --

KELLY: Why wasn't that done?

FRIEDEN: -- in the isolation area. That is now in place. I wish it had been in place earlier. It is now in place. And for any hospital in this country, if they have a confirmed case of Ebola, it will be in place there.

KELLY: Why not? This is all leading to the question you've been asked many times which is, why shouldn't we be focusing the care of anybody in the United States that comes down with Ebola in certain hospitals that are prepared to deal with it, hospitals like Emory? Why shouldn't they all be airlifted there, to those facilities as opposed to, in an ad hoc basis asking medical professionals to figure it out based on a website and a site manager?

FRIEDEN: We're looking at every possibility to keep care safe and effective. But every hospital in this country has to be ready to diagnose Ebola. Because a patient could --

KELLY: Diagnosed, yes, agree, that's a no-brainer. But we're talking about treating now.

FRIEDEN: So what we'll do from this day forward is if there's another case, we will send a team within hours. One of the things they will consider is, should we transfer that patient. We are on the ground to deal with the needs on the ground. Our focus is protecting people. We have people at CDC who devoted their lives to that.  World experts in Ebola.

KELLY: I know that, I know that, sir. And you protect a lot of people and the American people need to understand that. Your goal is to protect us. I get that. But we also have to be honest about failures does far. And it seems like there's a significant list so far.

I mean, why wasn't this stuff done before we had an Ebola patient come to the United States? Why now are we figuring it out as we go along with a disease that has such a high mortality rate?

FRIEDEN: We have provided extensive materials to hospitals so that they will diagnose patients quickly. We've surged our response so that we track every one of those 48 patients in conjunction with the folks in Texas. Those contacts with the initial patient every day they've been tracked. None of them have fever. They're now more than two-thirds through their risk period.

KELLY: I know. But we still have airplanes coming into the United States from Liberia and people who are being encouraged to self-report.

FRIEDEN: Ultimately, the only way -- and you may not like this -- but the only way we'll get our risk to zero here is to stop the outbreak in Africa.

KELLY: We have some 3,000, 4,000 troops over there trying to help them. Why can't we do that and impose the travel ban. Because you're that convinced that charter flights cannot do the same thing that commercial airlines can do?

FRIEDEN: Above all, we don't want to make the situation worse. If it's worse, if it spreads more in Africa, it's going to be more of a risk to us here. Our only goal is protecting Americans. That's our mission.  We do that by protecting people here and by stopping threats abroad.

KELLY: Do you still believe --

FRIEDEN: That protects Americans.

KELLY: Do you still believe, as the president said, that the chances of an Ebola outbreak in the United States are extremely low?

FRIEDEN: It's hard to stop Ebola, but there's no doubt in my mind we will not have -- there's no doubt in my mind we will not have a large outbreak of Ebola in the U.S.

KELLY: We won't have a large outbreak, but I mean, do you admit we already have an outbreak?

FRIEDEN: We have two cases, two patients who have been diagnosed. As I said, it is not impossible that some of the other workers who were exposed, as the nurse was exposed, will develop Ebola. That's why they'll all be monitored every day. But what we're doing is making sure --

KELLY: I have to get this in, we're almost out of time.

FRIEDEN: Excuse me, let me finish please.

KELLY: But we're almost out of time and I want to give you a chance to respond to O'Reilly and actually Dr. Manny Alvarez and others who have now said that you need to step down. Your response to those who are calling for your resignation?

FRIEDEN: I'm focused on protecting Americans 24/7. I'm focused on stopping the outbreak in Africa and I'm preventing more Americans from becoming exposed if patients come here.

KELLY: I appreciate your time, sir and all your effort.

FRIEDEN: Thank you.

KELLY: Thank you for being here.


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