U.S. Senator Chris Coons is the first member of Congress to travel to Liberia since the start of the Ebola outbreak. During his four day trip, he visited with deployed American troops, met with Liberian political leaders and explored Heart to Heart International’s new Ebola Treatment Unit in the town of Tappita.
Senator Coons of Delaware currently chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs. He said his trip to Liberia was partly to remind Americans that the Ebola epidemic is far from over, to make a holiday visit with the troops and to provide some oversight of the funds committed to fighting Ebola.
Coons: “There are more than 2,000 U.S. troops currently serving on the front lines of our fight against Ebola, building hospitals and field clinics, but no Member of Congress has visited them yet. I think it’s important to show them our support, especially during the holiday season while they’re away from their loved ones. Congress also just approved more than $2.5 billion in emergency funding to fight the spread of Ebola in West Africa, and to ensure the virus does not overrun the region again. It’s Congress’ job to perform responsible oversight of that investment.”
Accompanying the senator on the tour of HHI’s Ebola Treatment Unit was US Ambassador to Liberia Deborah Malac and Major General Gary Volesky, commander of the 101st Airborne and overall commander of US troops in Liberia. Maj. Gen. Volesky had been to the Tappita site previously, as construction for the ETU was managed by the 36th Engineer Brigade, from Fort Hood, Texas.
As the Huffington Post reported, Coons said he took plenty of precautions to avoid contracting the disease. “Every place I’ve gone I’m washing my hands with chlorine. Instead of handshakes we’re doing the ‘elboa,'” he said, referring to bumping elbows. Though the trip was considered a ‘low-risk’ visit the senator will follow protocols established by the Centers for Disease Control, his health will be monitored and his temperature taken every day for three weeks as a precaution.
Coons also told the Washington Post he had seen first-hand how international groups, like Heart to Heart International, along with local Liberian efforts had changed the trajectory of the epidemic in the country.