Obama: Don't Discourage U.S. Health Workers From Treating Ebola in West Africa

In a short statement from the White House, the president indirectly criticized state quarantine policies.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there is only one confirmed case of Ebola in the United States. And preventing new cases from cropping up, President Obama said, rests with stopping the virus at its source in West Africa.

Containment in West Africa requires the help of more health workers, including those from the U.S. The recent account of one nurse's three-day involuntary quarantine by New Jersey health officials, however, has some people, including medical experts, worried that health workers will face unfair treatment once they come back. The threat of quarantine, Obama said during a brief statement on Tuesday, could make volunteers think twice about joining the fight against Ebola.

"We don't want to discourage our health care workers from going to the front lines and dealing with this in an effective way," Obama said, hinting at new state quarantine protocols.

The Obama administration has said that New Jersey's strict quarantine policy, established by Gov. Chris Christie on Friday, is unnecessary. Quarantining health workers when they return from helping in West Africa isn't being cautious, it's being rash, the president said.

"When we see a problem and we see a challenge, then we fix it. We don't just react based on our fears," Obama said. "We react based on facts and judgment and making smart decisions."

Obama reminded Americans that their risk of contracting Ebola remains very low. The only two people to contract Ebola on U.S. soil were health workers.

"We know that the best way to protect Americans ultimately is going to stop this outbreak at the source," he said.

Ebola has killed more than 4,900 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, according to the latest numbers from the World Health Organization.

Dr. Craig Spencer, a health worker who treated Ebola patients in Guinea, is the only remaining American with the virus. Spencer is in serious but stable condition, NBC reported Monday.

Amber Vinson, a Dallas nurse who contracted the disease while treating an infected patient earlier this month, was released from the hospital Tuesday, Ebola-free. A second nurse who became infected, Nina Pham, also recovered and was discharged Friday. The man they treated, Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian man who traveled to Texas, died of the disease.

The administration has dispatched top medical officials to calm the nation's fears in recent weeks. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci have made dozens of media appearances to explain how the deadly virus is transmitted and why a U.S. outbreak is unlikely.

Obama also has personally worked to quell fears about the disease. Last week, the president invited Pham to the Oval Office, where he gave her a big hug.