The World Health Organization now calls the Zika virus a global emergency and a 30-year immigration official says the U.S. response should be obvious but he suspects President Obama will do virtually nothing to stop the virus from entering the U.S.
On Monday, World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan referred to Zika as an “extraordinary event.”
“I am now declaring that the recent cluster of microcephaly and other neurological abnormalities reported in Latin America following a similar cluster in French Polynesia in 2014 constitutes a public health emergency of international concern, said Chan.
The emergency declaration now puts Zika in the same category as Ebola. It also frees up research and aid to tackle the problem.
Most cases of Zika are believed to be transmitted by mosquito. Adults seem to handle the symptoms without many problems, but pregnant women are at great risk of passing it along to their unborn children. That can trigger microcephaly, which means babies have small heads and underdeveloped brains.
But there’s still a lot we don’t know, according to Michael Cutler, who served 30 years with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the forerunner to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In fact, he says there’s no guarantee that mosquitoes are the only way to transmit the virus.
“I don’t know that that’s accurate. I don’t know that the scientific community knows that that’s the sole way for the transmission of this disease,” said Cutler.
He said we need answers and we need them soon.
“We need to know how it’s transmitted. If it doesn’t ever get transmitted person-to-person, that’s one thing. But if there’s potential that humans can pass the virus, whether it’s through intimate contact, not-so-intimate contact, whatever the problem is, then we need to understand that we have got to be careful as to who we let into the United States,” said Cutler.
Cutler says the the safest way to proceed while those questions are answered is to give blood tests to everyone entering the United States at every airport, seaport and border crossing. He admits it would be a huge logistical undertaking, but U.S. immigration has a history of investigating and quarantining people entering the U.S. if they are suspected of carrying a serious disease.
He flagged such cases decades ago while processing incoming passengers at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
“If we saw somebody showing obvious signs of illness, they were immediately referred to public health. They would them make the call about whether the person should be put into quarantine,” said Cutler.
“It’s very difficult to set up and then you’ve got the additional aliens who run the border. For all the talk we’ve heard about not vetting the Syrian refugees, let’s remember that aliens who evade the inspections process are not being vetted at all,” said Cutler.
He says beyond answering the scientific questions, government policy also needs to be set.
“I would hope our officials move swiftly to determine just how easily the Zika virus can be transmitted and if in fact it can be transmitted person-to-person. Between now and that determination, it’s up to the administration, it’s up the president to determine the policies,” said Cutler, who made it clear he expects Obama to look the other way.
“I have zero confidence in this president, this administration to do anything that might impede the flow of foreign nationals into the United States,” said Cutler.
He says the past seven years make previous administrations that were weak on immigration enforcement pale by comparison.
“Everything this administration has done has been to basically dismantle our immigration system, our laws and our borders. This isn’t the first administration to do it. I wasn’t happy with the Bush administration either. But this administration has absolutely taken the door off the hinges,” said Cutler.