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THE SITUATION ROOM
CDC: First Ebola Case Diagnosed in U.S.; Armed White House Intruder Indicted; ISIS Forces Take Iraqi Military Base
Aired September 30, 2014 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, breaking news -- Ebola in the United States. The first confirmed case diagnosed in this country.
Who and where is the patient?
Intruder indicted -- a grand jury has just charged the man who ran deep inside the White House carrying a knife. And now we're learning stunning new information about the agents who finally tackled him.
ISIS advances -- militant forces making some critical gains despite new and escalating air strikes.
Can the U.S.-led coalition stop the terrorists' momentum?
DNA link -- a source now telling CNN there's new evidence tying the man suspected in the disappearance of a Virginia college student to a similar case five years ago.
Could police have a serial killer on their hands?
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: And let's get right to the breaking news.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has just announced the first case of Ebola. The first case has been diagnosed in the United States. It's a troubling milestone in the spread of a disease which has now killed thousands of people in West Africa.
We're standing by for a news conference by the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's coming up in about a half an hour.
We'll have live coverage.
We also have complete coverage of the other breaking stories we're following with our correspondents, our guests, including President Obama's senior adviser, Dan Pfeiffer. He's here with me in THE SITUATION ROOM. But first, let's bring in CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta -- Sanjay, what do we know about the first confirmed case of Ebola in the United States?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we know is this is a person who they had some suspicion, given where the person had recently traveled, West Africa. And this person was having symptoms -- having high fever and symptoms that were consistent with Ebola, but also, you know, coming -- could be a lot of other things.
What they did in this case, and they've done in several cases in the past, is they simply test the person's blood, sent those specimens over to the Centers for Disease Control and waited to see what it would find.
Keep in mind, Wolf, this has happened several times in the past. But all those previous times, the test has subsequently come back negative, or without any evidence of the Ebola virus.
This time we're hearing, and as you mentioned, within a half an hour, you're going to hear from the CDC themselves. But they are talking about the fact that this particular specimen did come back positive.
So while we have had other people in the United States who have had Ebola, keep in mind, they were diagnosed with Ebola elsewhere and then flown to the United States for treatment. This is the first patient who was, in fact, diagnosed here in the United States.
As you said, Wolf, this is a -- it's historic in some ways. It's a milestone, but not unexpected, I think, given how much we've seen Ebola sort of spread over the last several months.
BLITZER: And it's spreading by enormous rates in West Africa. There's alarm going on. Right now, thousands and thousands of people have been infected and thousands have died. It could go up and up and up.
So the question everyone is asking in the United States right now hearing you, Sanjay, how concerned should we be in this country that Ebola could come here?
GUPTA: Well, you know, Ebola is here. I think that that's -- you know, it's one of those things that I think is a little startling, maybe even jarring, to hear. But Ebola has been in the United States in -- in some ways, it arrived when those first patients arrived a couple of months ago now.
But now we've seen someone who's been diagnosed here having traveled from an area that was known to have Ebola to the United States.
The big question, I think, what people are really trying to figure out, is it going to start spreading within the United States?
That's the big concern.
And what I would say is the same thing I think we've been saying for months. And the likelihood of that happening is still very, very low. This is not a particularly contagious disease, despite the numbers, and, obviously, despite some of what you've seen in West Africa. This does not spread easily from person to person.
Typically, people will spread this when they are very sick. That is when their body starts to shed the virus. So -- and, typically, when someone is very sick, they're not up and about. They're typically in bed, oftentimes in a hospital.
So it's certainly concerning, not unexpected, but I think this idea that we're going to start seeing these outbreaks in the United States, I still maintain, I think, is relatively low -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Sanjay, I want you to stand by.
At the bottom of the hour, we're going to have live coverage from the CDC on what we know precisely, the first confirmed Ebola case now in the United States -- the first case confirmed in the United States.
Sanjay, thanks very much.
There's other breaking news we're following, including breaking news about the man who barreled deep inside the White House carrying a knife. He has now been indicted on three charges just hours after outraged lawmakers grilled the Secret Service director.
Let's go to our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown.
She has more on the breaking news.
What's the latest -- Pamela?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, tonight the grand jury indicted Omar Gonzalez on a federal charge of unlawfully entering a restricted building while carrying a deadly or dangerous weapon, as well as two DC law violations.
Meantime, Secret Service Chief Julia Pierson apologized today for her agency's botched handling of the latest White House security breach. This as we learn more details about the role off-duty Secret Service agents played in apprehending 42-year-old Gonzalez.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get out, right now. Go back. Everybody into the park.
BROWN (voice-over): A source briefed on the White House security breach tells CNN the intruder, Omar Gonzalez, seen here bolting across the White House lawn, was stopped by just one on duty Secret Service officer and two off-duty agents who were on the lower level of the building and heard the commotion.
Tonight, "The Washington Post" reports one of those agents had been guarding the Obama daughters just four minutes earlier, before they left with the president on Marine One. JULIE PIERSON, DIRECTOR, UNITED STATES SECRET SERVICE: We are all outraged within the Secret Service of how this -- how this incident came to pass. And that is why I have asked for a full review. It's obvious -- it is obvious that mistakes were made.
BROWN: For nearly four hours today, the director of the Secret Service, Julia Pierson, was grilled by Congress on how Omar Gonzalez, and Iraq war veteran, was able to make it inside.
REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: Don't let somebody get close to the president. Don't let somebody get close to his family.
REP. STEPHEN LYNCH (D), MASSACHUSETTS:
STEPHEN LYNCH (D), MASSACHUSETTS: And I wish to God you -- you protected the White House like you're protecting your reputation here today.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: I don't want anyone to imagine, imagine, imagining that they can pierce the protective veil of the Secret Service.
BROWN: Julia Pierson admitted at least two Secret Service agents recognized Gonzalez from previous incidents, even before he jumped the fence.
PIERSON: They observed him for some time. He wasn't acting inappropriately. He didn't violate any laws.
REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: But they did not -- they did not report that and they did not approach him, correct?
PIERSON: I think they noted that but they did not approach him.
BROWN: Pierson admitted today that after jumping the fence, Gonzalez made it past five rings of security, dashing 70 yards across the iconic front lawn and into the building's unlocked front door. Inside, Pierson said he overpowered an agent at the north entrance and made a left turn past the stairwell, which leads to the first family's private residence, through the red-carpeted cross hall, before briefly running into the East Room and finally being arrested.
Committee members pressed the director on why the Secret Service didn't disclose the struggle or the lengthy chase, and told the public Gonzalez was unarmed.
PIERSON: I know when Mr. Gonzalez was placed into custody, he was found to have a folded knife in his right front pants pocket.
CHAFFETZ: Do you consider that a weapon?
PIERSON: That is a weapon.
CHAFFETZ: Why would a press release be put out to the Associated Press?
Did you ever correct the -- did you correct the Associated Press?
Did you call them back and say, you've got that wrong?
PIERSON: I have no knowledge of that.
BROWN: Through the contentious hearing, members of Congress laid out a laundry list of Secret Service failures, including lack of training, failure to lock the front door and the decision not to use more force to stop Gonzalez, an argument former Secret Service officials dispute.
RALPH BASHAM, FORMER DIRECTOR, UNITED STATES SECRET SERVICE: We could be easily be sitting here today why an Iraq veteran, possibly suffering through Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, armed with only a pocket knife, was shot dead on the North Lawn.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BROWN: And late today, the White House came to Pierson's defense, saying she took responsibility and put new security reforms into place to make sure this never happens again. And today Pierson said one of those changes is a system that would automatically lock the White House front door -- Wolf.
BLITZER: That sort of makes sense right now.
Thanks very much, Pamela.
Let's move on to other breaking news we're following, this time involving ISIS. Its forces are now making some significant advances, despite weeks of airstrikes by the U.S. and a growing coalition.
Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is working the story for us.
What's the latest -- Jim.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the U.S.-led coalition is now 53 days into the air campaign in Iraq, eight days into the campaign in Syria. And yet, ISIS still holds about the same amount of territory as it did when that air campaign began. Pentagon officials making clear no one was expecting a sudden victory, but as ISIS continues to advance, the challenge and time line of this war is becoming clearer.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): U.S. and coalition warplanes rule the skies, but on the ground, ISIS remains on the offensive. In Syria, Kurdish forces are locked in a fight for their lives, surrounded by ISIS militants in the town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. More than half of coalition airstrikes in Syria overnight targeted this area, but ISIS' relentless assault continues there.
In Iraq, ISIS seized an Iraqi military bases 50 miles north of Baghdad, the second major Iraqi base to fall since the start of the U.S. air campaign -- dozens of ISIS militants overwhelming 180 Iraqi soldiers, most of whom fled before the base was overrun. Now a large cache of U.S. weapons and armored vehicles are in the hands of ISIS.
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: We're certainly taking the long view at the Pentagon. This is going to be a long struggle. This group will adapt. And we're going to have to adapt right along with them. And airstrikes alone, you're just going to bomb them away. It's not going to happen like that.
SCIUTTO: The war plan could eventually include requests for U.S. ground troops, a point reiterated at the Council On Foreign Relations today by Deputy secretary of Defense, Robert Work.
(on camera): Was the Pentagon keeping that option on the table?
ROBERT WORK, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: When and if Chairman Dempsey and General Austin believe, that, hey, there is a point in which we might need to have troops, they're going to put that option forward. And it will be up to the president to decide.
SCIUTTO: The coalition against ISIS continues to grow, with Britain carrying out its first airstrikes in Iraq today.
But the U.S. remains in the lead, and it's getting expensive. The first wave of U.S. military action against ISIS has cost nearly $1 billion, according to one study. The bill will grow at $320 million per month if operations continue at their current pace, amounting to $4 billion a year in an environment of tightening military budgets.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
SCIUTTO: The mounting costs of the Iraq and Syria campaigns come while the Pentagon still is battling with sequestration, the obligatory reduction of the Pentagon budget across all areas. And when asked, Deputy Secretary Work about fighting a war in that environment, he didn't pull punches, Wolf. He called sequestration, quote, "utterly stupid and totally irresponsible."
HENDERSON: I guess he was blunt in telling us how he really feels about those mandatory spending cuts.
All right, Jim, thanks very much.
We've got lots to talk about with President Obama's senior adviser, Dan Pfeiffer, who is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Dan, thanks very much for coming in.
DAN PFEIFFER, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thanks for having me, Wolf.
HENDERSON: On this Ebola everything, I know the president was recently in Atlanta at the CDC. I assume he's been briefed by the director of the CDC.
What are you hearing about this first confirmed case -- this first case confirmed in the United States?
PFEIFFER: Well, Wolf, I think I'll let the CDC and the medical professionals talk about this specific case and what it means.
But what I will say is that we have been preparing for this possibility for a long time. America has the best doctors and public health infrastructure in the world. And so we're ready to deal with it.
But the CDC will have more to say shortly.
BLITZER: And the plans, though, to dispatch U.S. troops to West Africa and spend whatever it costs to deal with it there, that's still all in the works?
PFEIFFER: Absolutely. We have -- as the president announced at the CDC a few weeks ago, we're stepping up our response. The U.S. is leading the world here to bring the unique and unprecedented abilities of the U.S. military, in terms of command and control and logistics, to help coordinate the response in Africa and get this outbreak under control, as we have in the past.
BLITZER: This is a big issue for the president. He spends a lot of time worrying about this?
PFEIFFER: Absolutely. It is a -- a threat to regional security. It is a public health threat. And as we see here, it can have effects here in America.
BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about the Secret Service, a subject that is very close to the president's heart. His family has to be protected.
This is shocking, these developments. You've spent every day for the last six years, you've been walking around the White House.
Can you believe somebody jumped over the fence -- that happens all the time?
But then ran all the way to the North Portico, got inside, not only got inside, but roamed around in the foyer over there and then actually made his way to the East Room, where the president hosts state dinners, makes important events?
When you heard that were you -- you must have been shocked?
PFEIFFER: Well, Wolf, first, let me say that, as someone who has worked in the White House for six years, travels with the president a lot, I am incredibly grateful for the work they do to protect the first family and by extension, those of us who travel and work with them.
BLITZER: All of us are grateful to the Secret Service personnel.
PFEIFFER: And, you know, this is obviously very concerning to the president, as it would be to any parent, if something like this were to happen in their home. The director of the Secret Service has said it's unacceptable, has initiated a full review to figure out exactly what went wrong and taken responsibility and has pledged to take steps to make sure it never happen again.
BLITZER: When was the president told the extent of what happened?
PFEIFFER: Well, I don't want to get into specific conversations between the president and the Secret Service, but rest assured, the Secret Service has been in contact with the president and the White House staff from his -- from essentially right after this happened, on a regular basis over the last -- over the last week or so.
BLITZER: Because I'm sure the first lady -- and I'm sure both daughters, they must have been alarmed when they heard that somebody actually penetrated the White House and got into the East Room.
PFEIFFER: Well, I'm not going to get into the reaction of the first family here. But rest assured, the president -- this is -- the president is obviously very concerned about this and appreciates the efforts that the Secret Service has done to undertake this review and ensure that it never happens again.
BLITZER: Does he feel safe?
BLITZER: He does feel -- the family feels safe?
So what needs to be done to fix it?
Does he still have confidence in Julia Pierson, the director of the Secret Service?
PFEIFFER: He does. And they're undertaking this review. They're going to figure out exactly what went wrong, and they've taken some steps in the short term to address some of the problems that happened on that evening and when we get to that review, I'm confident that they will implement reforms are necessary to ensure something like this never happens again.
BLITZER: There have been more than a dozen people who have jumped over the fence. Any thought given to maybe build a bigger fence?
PFEIFFER: I'll leave it to the Secret Service to make decisions about the president's security, the security of the White House.
BLITZER: This is a big -- this is a very big issue for the -- and then a few weeks earlier -- I want to move on to some other subjects. A few years earlier, in 2011, shots were fired at the White House, penetrating a window, but it took four days. Secret Service didn't discover it, even though they heard the noise. They heard the shots; they thought it was something else. It was a housekeeper who found these shots in the window in the White House residence.
PFEIFFER: After that happened, the Secret Service did a review of that. But what we know here is that what happened a week or so ago is unacceptable. It can't happen again. And Secret Service is going to take steps to make sure that doesn't happen again.
BLITZER: So that's where we stand right now. The president still has confidence in the Secret Service director?
PFEIFFER: Yes, he does, Wolf.
BLITZER: Because some members of the committee today suggesting that they will call for her resignation.
PFEIFFER: I saw that in the testimony. He still has confidence in her.
BLITZER: All right. I want you to stand by. We have a lot more to talk about, including ISIS and some of the other issues on the president's agenda right now.
We're also standing by for this live news conference from Atlanta from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The director about to tell us about the first case of Ebola confirmed right here in the United States. Stay with us. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: A new wave of air strikes against ISIS forces, including the first by British fighter jets, but the terrorists continue to make significant gains, including an Iraqi military base only about 50 miles from Baghdad. That's where they seized a large cache of weapons, including a lot of U.S.-supplied weapons to the Iraqi military.
Once again, the senior presidential adviser, Dan Pfeiffer, is here with me in THE SITUATION ROOM. This is pretty alarming, after all these weeks of air strikes, ISIS continues to advance. They're on the move. They're not slowing down. What does that say to you?
PFEIFFER: Well, we said -- the president said from the very beginning this is going to take some time. It's going to be a long-term effort. We have made progress. The Pentagon believes the air strikes that we've taken have been effective, but it's going to take time.
Because it's not just about U.S. air strikes and the strikes of the broad international coalition the president has built. It's also about training the moderate Syrian rebels. It's about building up the Iraqi security forces, behind them being an inclusive government led by the prime minister. So it's a lot of work to be done, and it's going to take some time.
BLITZER: The U.S. spent ten years building up that Iraqi security force, spending hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq over those 10 years, supplying them with the most sophisticated U.S. weapons, and these ISIS guys come in, they drop their weapons and they run away.
PFEIFFER: I think what happened in the beginning, before the United States got involved, of course, in the change of government, was when we left, we left the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people with a tremendous opportunity to move forward in a safe, secure and democratic way.
BLITZER: They botched it.
PFEIFFER: Absolutely. By undertaking the sectarian governance. We made a change there, which gives the opportunity for success, but it's going to take some work.
BLITZER: Do you like this new guy, Haider al-Abadi, the new prime minister?
PFEIFFER: The president met with him in New York at the U.N. General Assembly meeting this week. It was very impressive. There's a lot of work to do. But he's saying the right things.
BLITZER: Is the president thinking -- there's about 1,600 U.S. troops now, advisers helping the Iraqis and protecting the so-called Green Zone where the U.S. embassy is in Baghdad. Is the president thinking of sending more U.S. troops there?
PFEIFFER: Wolf, first, our first priority here is going to be to protect our U.S. personnel in the region, including in our embassies. And so we will constantly evaluate that to make sure that our folks are as secure as they need to be. Right now we believe we have the assets we need, but if that changes, that decision will come to the president.
BLITZER: Have you heard anything about any evacuation of U.S. diplomats, other people, citizens, military personnel given the ISIS advances?
PFEIFFER: No. But we'll obviously monitor this very carefully, because as I said, security of personnel is the top priority here.
BLITZER: This is a high issue on the president's agenda right now.
BLITZER: Getting it right. And you say it's going to take a long time. You're not taking -- saying weeks or months. This is going to take years.
PFEIFFER: Absolutely. This is a -- we're dealing with a broader situation, a sectarian conflict in the region, and -- but it's going to take time. It's going to require building up a moderate Syrian opposition. We were very pleased that Congress came in in a bipartisan way and authorized the president's program to equip and train them. So we're making progress, but it will take time; and people need to be patient.
BLITZER: What do you say all these reports for these intelligence analysts saying, "We told the White House a year ago that ISIS was gaining strength, they were gaining areas in Syria, moving in Iraq"? And the president, as you know, on "60 Minutes" the other night, he said the intelligence community underestimated what ISIS could do.
PFEIFFER: Well, what the president was saying is something that Director Clapper himself said, which is...
BLITZER: The director of national security?
PFEIFFER: Which is that while we've been tracking ISIL for a long time, watching their rise, evaluating the threat, that everyone was surprised by how fast and how far ISIL advanced in Iraq because of the lack of will to fight many of the Iraqi security forces.
And as Director Clapper said today, there's no intelligence tool to divine the will of the fight of a fighting force somewhere in the world. And so that's what he's referring to. As the president is tremendously grateful for the work that our brave men and women in the intelligence community do to keep America safe every day.
BLITZER: Because I've spoken to some of these intelligence analysts, and they've told me privately, "We told the White House, but they didn't want to hear what we were saying," to which you say?
PFEIFFER: Well, the president wasn't saying what I think the interpretation that you're reading back to me. He was referring specifically to their advances in Iraq. We've obviously been -- the intelligence community has been tracking it. The president's been tracking it very carefully the rise of ISIL and the potential threat it would play in the region and in the United States.
BLITZER; And the president was also -- he said he was surprised how quickly the Iraqi military crumbled. But that was a huge...
PFEIFFER: That was the point he was originally making.
BLITZER: That the Iraqi military, even though there were 2 or 300,000 troops, they couldn't deal with 10,000 or 20,000 of these terrorists who are coming in.
PFEIFFER: In part because they were -- because of the type of governance that former Prime Minister Maliki had that raised questions as to why you need inclusive governance to get a security force to fight for the whole nation. Hopefully, we have turned the page here with the new government and will be able to have a sort of government that will allow for a stronger Iraqi military force, and we're willing to fight.
BLITZER: I know you're spending a lot of time dealing with issue No. 1 for so many Americans, the economy right now. The economy clearly is a lot better today than it was six years ago when the president took office, as you point out. The American people, the United States was losing 800,000 jobs a month when he took office. The U.S. has been creating jobs ever since.
But here's the question. The stock market is so much better. It was 7,000 in the Dow Jones. Now 17,000. All these indicators are positive. Unemployment has gone down. Why isn't the president getting credit for the turnaround in the economy?
PFEIFFER: Well, first, Wolf, let me say that on the issues you've been talking about here today -- Ebola, the fight against ISIL -- these are the situations in the world where the United States is leading, because as the president said, we're the one essential power that, when trouble comes, they don't call Beijing; they don't call Moscow. They call us.
In our ability to lead the world in situations like this is dependent directly on the strength of our economy at home.
You're absolutely right. We have made tremendous progress since the president came in. Auto industry is back, created 10 million private- sector jobs. The housing market is coming back. Real progress.
Now, the challenge is, is that the benefits of that progress are not being shared broadly enough among the middle class and all those folks. So on Thursday, the president is traveling to Northwestern University in his home state of Illinois to give a speech where will have -- he will speak to the progress we've made and a strategy we need to undertake to move us so that the next -- so this century is a great American century. In order to do that, Wolf, we're going to have to make some tough choices and we're going to need to work together.
BLITZER: This Bard (ph) College economist, he has a chart that just came out showing that the benefits over the past six years, the benefits of the economic recovery are really only going to the top 10 percent earners in the United States, and 90 percent really aren't feeling those benefits.
PFEIFFER: Wolf, you're speaking to a decades' long trend in this country of decreasing economic mobility, increasing income inequality. We've actually made tremendous progress in dealing with that, in this administration, by preserving tax cuts for the middle class, raising tax cuts on some of the wealthiest Americans, passing the Affordable Care Act. But there's much more work to do to reverse those trends. That's something we're very focused on.
BLITZER: Dan Pfeiffer, thanks very much for coming in.
I want to go to Sanjay Gupta right now. He's getting ready. We're standing by for that CDC, Centers for Disease Control, news conference on the first case of Ebola diagnosed in the United States. Sanjay, you're there; you're on the scene for us. Tell our viewers what we're about to hear.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're getting some more information about what likely happened here. This was a patient -- this was a person who was in Liberia. We do know that. So this is someone who traveled from West Africa back to the United States.
We know that -- what we're hearing from that CDC source is the person was not sick on the plane and did not have any symptoms or cause for concern at that time.
Upon arriving to the United States, they started to get sick, and they were concerned they have Ebola. Why exactly they were concerned -- if they were a healthcare worker, if they came in contact with people with Ebola in Liberia -- we're going to get those details here shortly.
But nevertheless, the person was concerned enough. They went to the hospital; was placed in isolation, which again is pretty standard. That's the standard protocol now that we've been hearing about so much in the United States. And his blood was drawn and sent over to the CDC. And we know that those results came back positive.
So this is the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States. And we have had other patients who have had Ebola, but remember, Wolf, they were diagnosed in West Africa and then brought to the United States after that diagnosis had already been confirmed.
What we're talking about today, what you're going to hear about shortly from Dr. Tom Friedman, who's the head of the CDC, is this is the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States.
We're going to have a lot of questions, obviously. We want to know who else potentially may have been exposed, how sick this person is, and what's going to happen over the next several days and weeks to try and help this person to recover. But obviously we're awaiting some of those details now, Wolf, just like everybody else.
BLITZER: And Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control, he will speak shortly. We'll have live coverage. As we await Dr. Frieden, I guess some of the key questions we'll want answered, Sanjay, when did this individual diagnosed in the United States actually come back to the United States? How long was that period where he potentially could have spread this disease? What's his state right now? Where is this individual, if it's a man or a woman? We don't know, right?
GUPTA: Well, we do know that the person left Liberia on September 19. It sounds like arrived in the United States on September 20. A long flight through there. But was not sick, at least according to our sources, was not sick during travel.
At some point later, a few days later, apparently, they became sick. That's this person, I should say, became sick and was concerned that he or she had Ebola. And why they had that concern, if they were working as a healthcare worker or had contact, again we're not sure about that. But they were concerned enough they went to the hospital. We know the person is in isolation in a Dallas hospital somewhere.
Blood was drawn. That blood was sent over to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, and now there's been confirmation that, in fact, they did detect Ebola in the blood. So that's why they're saying this is the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States.
But you ask good questions, Wolf. Who -- how many days was the person possibly sick before they went to the hospital? Who else may the person have come in contact with?
I do want to make clear again, Wolf, something that we've talked about quite a bit, is that Ebola is not particularly contagious. Meaning it is not something that's spread easily. It only really starts to spread when someone is very sick. And when they are very sick, they are often in the hospital, like this person is. They are usually not up walking around.
So a scenario, for example, where someone was -- had Ebola, was walking through an airport, shaking hands, interacting with people and spreading Ebola inadvertently, that doesn't happen. That's not the way Ebola behaves. But there could be family members that may have been in close contact with him when he was sick. Other people, those are some of the details that I think are going to be very, very important.
BLITZER: Last week the World Health Organization, Sanjay, reported there had been 6,553 confirmed cases of Ebola, mostly in West Africa. As we know, though, a lot of the people assume the number is a lot higher than that. But of those 6,500, 3,000 -- more than 3,000 of those people have died, because there really is no cure right now, right?
GUPTA: There is no cure. There's no specific treatment for this. As you know, there's a vaccine that's in trials right now. We have heard about experimental medications that have been used. We know that they were used, for example, on Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol. They were the first two Americans that came into the United States with Ebola.
But there is no specific treatment. When you look at those numbers carefully, Wolf, it reflects about 50 percent or so mortality. Meaning about one in two people who get Ebola die from Ebola. In some ways, those numbers are better than outbreaks in the past. The mortality rate has been as high as 90 percent.
But one thing I think is very important to point out is that, in the United States now, the idea of this starting to spread, causing outbreaks in the United States and having mortality rates like that, I think is very unlikely. First of all, it's unlikely to spread, because patients can be put into isolation quickly, as we're hearing about now with this patient in Dallas, and also simply providing treatments in the forms of fluids, replacing bodily fluids, giving back blood products of someone starting to bleed, those things make a big difference and can improve dramatically improve someone's chance of surviving.
I've been to West Africa. I was in Guinea. I saw basically fields that were converted into makeshift Ebola camps. It's a very different sort of structure, infrastructure in West Africa versus the United States. I point that out only to offer a little bit of comfort to say, when we talked about these mortality rates as high as they've been in West Africa, I can't imagine that they would be anything like that here in the United States.
BLITZER: And we're standing by for this news conference. The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Thomas Frieden, will be speaking shortly.
We just got a statement, Sanjay, from the Texas Department of State Health -- Health Services. This patient traveled recently from West Africa, is in Dallas, as you point out, right now.
Let me read a little bit of this statement for you, and then we'll digest what we heard as we await for Thomas Frieden to tell us what's going on. A lot of concern out there, obviously, right now. Here's -- actually, you know what? Let me grab a quick break. We'll read the statement in a moment. Sanjay, stand by. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, the first case of Ebola now confirmed, diagnosed here in the United States. Dr. Sanjay Gupta is with me. We're standing by for a news conference by the director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Dr. Thomas Frieden.
Sanjay, as we await for Dr. Thomas Frieden's announcement, a very worrisome development from here in the United States. Let me read to you what the Texas Department of State Health Services has just released. The statement they just released, that this patient diagnosed with Ebola had traveled from West Africa, is now in a hospital in Dallas.
Here's the statement, Sanjay: "A Texas hospital patient has tested positive for Ebola, making the patient the first case diagnosed in the United States. The test was conducted by the state public health laboratory in Austin. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the positive result.
"The patient is an adult with a recent history of travel to West Africa. The patient developed symptoms days after returning to Texas from West Africa and was admitted into isolation on Sunday at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. The Texas Department of State Health Services is working with the CDC, the local health department and the hospital to investigate the race and to help prevent transmission of the disease. The hospital has implemented infection control measures to help ensure the safety of patients and staff."
All right. Give me your quick analysis of that statement from the Texas Department of State Health Services.
GUPTA: Well, we do know that the patient returned from West Africa, specifically, Liberia, on September 20. And then it sounds like they went into isolation on Sunday. I imagine it was this past Sunday, so that would be eight days later.
So within those eight days, between September 20 and September 28, it sounds like the person started to become quite ill. It doesn't sound like they were sick already when they left West Africa; and they weren't sick during their travel but it was only after arriving here back in the United States. They became ill. We don't know what the symptoms were at that time, but typically it's fever. It is often flu-like...
BLITZER: All right. Sanjay, hold on a minute. I want to go to the news conference. THOMAS FRIEDEN, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION:
As you've been hearing from us, Ebola is a serious disease. It's only spread by direct contact with someone who's sick with the virus. And it's only spread through body fluids. The incubation period is eight to ten days after exposure, can be as short as two days or as long as 21 days.
It's a severe disease which has a high case fatality rate even with the best of care. But there are core tried-and-true public health interventions that stop it.
Today, we are providing the information that an individual traveling from Liberia has been diagnosed with Ebola in the United States. This individual left Liberia on the 19th of September, arrived in the U.S. on the 20th of September, had no symptoms when departing Liberia or entering this country but four or five days later, around the 24th of September, began to develop symptom. On the 26th of September, initially sought care and Sunday the 28th of September was admitted to a hospital in Texas and placed on isolation.
We received in our laboratory today specimens from the individual, tested them, and they tested positive for Ebola. The state of Texas also operates a laboratory that found the same results. The testing for Ebola is highly accurate. It's a PCR test of blood. So what does this mean? The next steps are basically three fold.
First, to care for the patient -- and we'll be hearing from the hospital shortly -- to provide the most effective care possible as safely as possible to keep to an absolute minimum the likelihood or possibility that anyone would become affected and to maximize the chances that the patient might recover and second, to maximize the chances that the patient might recover.
Second, we identified all people who may have had contact with the patient while he could have been infectious. And remember, Ebola does not spread from someone who's not infectious. It does not spread from someone who doesn't have fever and other symptoms. So it's only someone who's sick with Ebola who can spread the disease.
Once those contacts are all identified, they are all monitored for 21 days after exposure to see if they develop fever. If they develop fever, then those same criteria are used to isolate them and make sure that they are carried for as well as possible so that they maximize their chances and to minimize or eliminate the chance that they would infect other people.
The bottom line here is that I have no doubt that we will control this importation or this case of Ebola so that it does not spread widely in this country. It is certainly possible that someone who had contact with this individual, a family member or other individual could develop Ebola in the coming weeks but there is no doubt in my mind that we will stop here.
It does reflect the ongoing spread of Ebola in Liberia and West Africa where there are large numbers of cases and while we do not currently know how this individual became infected, they undoubtedly had close contact with someone who was sick with Ebola or who had died from it.
In West Africa, we are surging the response not only of CDC where we already have more than 130 people in the field, but also throughout the U.S. government, the president has leaned forward to make sure that we're acting very proactively there and the Defense Department is on the ground already strengthening the response.
We're working with USAID and other parts of U.S. government as well as with a broad global coalition to confront the epidemic there. But ultimately we are all connected by the air we breathe and we are invested in ensuring that the disease is controlled in Africa but also in ensuring that where there are patients in this country who become ill, they are immediately isolated and we do the tried and proved core public health interventions that stop the spread of Ebola.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, Dr. Frieden.
I'd like to next introduce our second speaker, Dr. David Lakey, commissioner at the Texas Department of State Health Services. Dr. Lakey.
DR. DAVID LAKEY, COMMISSIONER, TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF STATE HEALTH SERVICES: Good afternoon, everyone. And thank you, Dr. Frieden.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to continue to monitor what's going on at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But Sanjay Gupta is still with us, our chief medical correspondent.
Thomas Frieden explaining what's going on. I think it's fair to say full transparency, sort of alarming to me that there could have been other people who were infected, if you will, over these days since this individual showed symptoms of what was going on now confirmed -- the first confirmed case of Ebola here in the United States.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I agree with you, Wolf. I was putting that together myself. What we just heard was that this is someone who traveled from Liberia back to the United States, arrived in the United States on September 20th. The person reportedly was not ill when they left Liberia, was not ill when they arrived in the United States.
What we heard, though, after that was on the 24th, four days later, they started to become ill. This person, I should say, started to become ill. Two days after that, on the 26th, they went and sought out care, presumably at the doctor's office or the hospital. We're not sure where they went to try and seek care but it wasn't until two days after that, the 28th, when they were put on isolation.
So a two-year point, Wolf. From the 24th to the 28th, it sounds like this is somebody who was sick but was not in isolation. What is going to be absolutely critical, obviously besides taking care of this individual is now to go back over those four days and figure out anybody that person may have had contact with.
That's absolutely critical. And it is absolutely crucial to do that to try and prevent other people from possibly spreading this virus. It is called contact tracing. And as Dr. Frieden pointed out, it is a mainstay of controlling these sorts of things. But obviously four days is a significant period of time and there could be many contacts the person may have had.
They do -- once they find those context they got to monitor those people for three weeks, 21 days, and make sure they don't develop any signs of fever because that could be one of the earliest signs of an Ebola infection.
So a couple of priorities, Wolf, as Dr. Frieden laid out, I think as you've said, transparently, first and foremost, you have the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States. The care for that person obviously a paramount importance. But then going back, finding all of those contacts and really monitoring them closely. Putting them in a situation where they can't possibly spread Ebola and monitor to see if they develop any fever.
So that's what's happening right now, Wolf, here in the United States. This has not happened before. It's happening a lot in West Africa, as Dr. Frieden pointed out. But from a medical standpoint, this is historic, what Dr. Frieden just outlined.
BLITZER: And it's very worrisome. Those people who had contact -- and I want you to define contact, what that means, because it's not easy to spread Ebola but they are going to be put in isolation now, as you point out, for three weeks themselves.
GUPTA: That's right. And you know, when we talk about Ebola again, you know, terms do matter here. It's not a particularly contagious disease. It doesn't spread through the air, for example, like a flu virus but it is infectious disease which means that even a small amount of the virus that you get on your skin, for example, can possibly cause an infection.
BLITZER: Well, let me interrupt for a second, Sanjay.
Will you shake hands with this individual during those four days between September 24th, the time the first symptoms showed up, and September 28th, last Sunday, when he was finally admitted into a hospital? If he shook hands with you, you'd have to go into isolation for three weeks? Is that right?
GUPTA: That is right. And -- you know, I want to be very careful in how we describe this. But keep in mind that this is something that is spread through bodily fluids. Once somebody starts to get sick, it means the virus is being excreted in their bodily fluids. Shake hands with somebody, we all have minor breaks in our skin. And there is a possibility. It's not a large possibility but it's a possibility that some of the virus can be transmitted that way.
So any contact, any contact this person had over those four days between when they became ill and before they were in isolation, they need to be found, they need to be put in isolation. They need to be monitored for three weeks. And that's a big task. Again we don't know, maybe this person just went home and had very little contact with anybody. We don't know. BLITZER: All right. Hold on for a second, Sanjay. I want to go back
to Thomas Frieden, the director of the CDC.
FRIEDEN: The Dallas County Health Departments for their collaboration. CDC has a team of epidemiologists en route to Texas now, at the request of the Texas Department of Health. And we work hand in hand, collaboratively, to do what public health does best, which is protect people. And we protect people in this case by making sure that we find the contacts. Identify them and make sure that they're traced every day for 21 days.
If they develop a fever, that they're immediately isolated and their contacts would be identified as well. So first question in the room.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE), FOX 5. So you were saying that he started showing symptoms, went to a hospital, and then was released, sent home and then was not admitted until a day or two later?
FRIEDEN: The initial symptoms of Ebola are often nonspecific. That means there are symptoms that may be associated with many other conditions. So it may not be immediately identified as Ebola. And that's why we have encouraged all emergency department physicians to take a history of travel within the last 21 days. That's something to reiterate. And then to do rapid testing.
Dr. Goodman, is there anything more that you'd like to say about it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. I think you summarized it very well.
FRIEDEN: Next question in the room.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know you're limited a little bit with patient privacy. But can you tell us a little bit, was this person involved in fighting the Ebola epidemic? And also, did they travel on a commercial aircraft? Rachel from WSBT TV.
FRIEDEN: From the information that we have now, it does not appear that the individual was involved in the response to Ebola. But that is something that we will investigate more.
In terms of the airlines flight, I really do want to emphasize, the focus here over the next period needs to be the patient and we're very focused on trying to get any assistance we can to the patient who we understand is critically ill at this point. And then identifying contacts in the community, family members or others. And then any possible contacts through the health care setting. And then tracing those contacts.
In terms of the flight, I understand that people are curious about that and wonder about it. But remember, Ebola doesn't spread before someone gets sick. And he didn't get sick until four days after he got off the airplane. So we do not believe there is any risk to anyone who was on the flight at that time. He left on the 19th and arrived on the 20th. Next question in the room?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi. Michelle Alloy from WABE. How likely is this to be a concern with people coming back from the region who aren't showing symptoms then but may later and what is being done at airports and the first lines of people coming into the country to ensure that something like this doesn't -- it doesn't continue to be an issue.
FRIEDEN: As long as there continue to be cases in West Africa, the reality is that patients travel, individuals travel. And that's -- appears to have happened in this case, individuals may travel before they have any symptoms.
One of the things that CDC has done in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Lagos is to work with the authorities. So 100 percent of the individuals getting on planes are screened for fever before they get on a plane. And if they have a fever, they're pull out of the line. Assessed for Ebola and don't fly unless Ebola is ruled out.
This is one way to make sure that the airplanes themselves are safe during transit and the airlines are willing to keep flying. But that doesn't rule out a situation like this one where someone may have been -- well, was exposed and then came in while they were incubating the disease but not infectious with it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) From ABC, can you tell us where he was and do you know why he was in those countries?
FRIEDEN: The details of the individual are things that we will investigate and some of that has to do with patient confidentiality. So we would defer to the hospital and to the family for any further information on those details.
We have a question here. And then shall we go to the phone for the first question after this one?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From NBC News. Do you expect the patient to remain in Texas and be treated there or transferred to facilities such as Emory or one of the other specialties around the country that have been treating them in the past?
FRIEDEN: So one of the things that we really do want to emphasize is that virtually any hospital in this country that can do isolation can do isolation for Ebola. In fact over the past decade, although this is the first Ebola patient in this country, we've had five patients with other forms of very deadly viruses. What are called viral hemorrhagic fevers.
Four of them, loss of fever, one of them (INAUDIBLE), none of those five patients spread the disease to anyone who cared for them in the hospital. Even though they weren't promptly diagnosed because it was such an unusual situation. So we don't see a need from either a medical or an infection control standpoint to try to move the patient.
Dr. Goodman, is there anything more that you'd like to say?
GOODMAN: No. I think that summarizes it very well.
FRIEDEN: On the phone? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please press star one and record your name at
the prompt. The first question is from Miriam Falco at CNN News. Your line is open.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, thanks for taking the call. Can you tell us a little bit more about how sick the patient is? How the patient is being treated? And how many contacts you are trying to reach? That might be something for the folks in Texas. And also will this patient be staying at the hospital in Dallas?
FRIEDEN: So let me turn first to Dr. Goodman if any information that you can share about the patient's status and treatment?
GOODMAN: Well, because of the patient privacy, we're unable to share any information about the patient's symptoms or his treatment at this time. I can say that he is ill. He is under intensive care. He is being seen by highly trained competent specialists and the health department is helping us in tracing any family members that might have been exposed.
FRIEDEN: And Director Thompson, do you want to say anything further about contacts?
THOMPSON: I want to echo that our staff has been doing the public health follow-ups since day one. And so we'll continue to process and we'll have more details in the days to come. But right now everything is going fine. Thank you.
FRIEDEN: Thank you. And as I mentioned earlier, we have a team en route to Texas now. They will work hand in hand with state and local and hospital public health, and epidemiological staff to identify all possible contacts and then monitor them every day for 21 days to see if they have fever.
This is core public health work. This is what we do in public health and we're delighted to be doing it in partnership with Texas. We're very concerned, obviously, about the status of the patient and very much hoping for his recovery.
On the phone?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The next question comes from Bettina (INAUDIBLE), the "Wall Street Journal." Your line is open.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. Thanks. I just wondered if I could ask a little more detail about potential exposures. Do you have -- you know, is there anything that any of you could say more about what this patient was doing between the 24th when he had symptoms and the 28th when he was admitted? I mean, was he just at home so only family members were potentially exposed? Or how many people -- or was he out?
You know, are we talking about a handful of people who are potentially exposed or more than that? Or dozens?
FRIEDEN: I think a handful is the right characterization. We know that there are several family members. They may have been one or two or three other community members. And we're there to do additional investigations to identify any other possibilities. Our approach in this kind of case is to cast the net widely. To ensure that we're identifying even people who may not have had direct contact so that we're erring, if erring on the side of safety.
Mr. Thompson, anything else you would like to add?
THOMPSON: I concur. Our role is to look at suspected cases. And we really appreciate Dr. Frieden, you're spending your CDC time to support us in this effort. We think again it is a small framework that we're looking at in terms of the number of people. But once we get additional information, we'll --
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
BLITZER: We're going to continue to follow the breaking news.