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O'Malley seeks to allay fears after Ebola patient arrives in Maryland

President Barack Obama appointed an "Ebola czar" Friday to lead the nation's response to the deadly virus, as Gov. Martin O'Malley sought to allay the public's fears after an infected Texas nurse was brought to Bethesda for treatment.

Meanwhile, Johns Hopkins University discouraged faculty, staff and students from traveling to West Africa. And first responders shut down a Pentagon parking lot where a woman who recently traveled to Africa vomited. She was hospitalized in Virginia until authorities determined that she did not have the virus.

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"There will no doubt be more instances of suspect cases and cases that need to be investigated," O'Malley told reporters, saying that each incident presents an opportunity to improve how officials confront Ebola.

The nation's preparedness has been questioned even as public health officials have repeatedly assured that any Ebola outbreak would be contained. On Friday, Rep. Chris Van Hollen asked hospitals in Maryland whether they are prepared with patient-screening protocols and whether they've had difficulty implementing federal guidance.

"In the wake of the death of the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the United States and the infection of two nurses on his health care team, there have been troubling reports of lapses in protocol and lack of protective equipment at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital," the Maryland Democrat wrote, referring to the facility where Thomas Eric Duncan died last week.

Carmela Coyle, president and CEO of the Maryland Hospital Association, said she assured Van Hollen that the state's hospital staffs have been training and drilling to deal with a possible Ebola case, and they are taking stock of protective gear. But she noted that federal officials are expected to issue new guidelines for protecting health care workers, which may require adjustments in safety protocols and equipment.

"It is an evolving knowledge base, but hospitals are doing everything they can to stay on top of it," Coyle said.

As the U.S. girds for the possibility of more Ebola cases and Africa continues to see the number of cases grow exponentially, a Baltimore biotechnology company was among those called upon to produce more of an experimental drug that was used on two Ebola patients flown from Liberia to Atlanta.

U.S. officials asked three biology laboratories, including Emergent BioSolutions in Baltimore, to submit plans for producing experimental Ebola drug ZMapp after supplies ran out. The labs must submit detailed plans for production by Nov. 10.

O'Malley said he was not "terribly surprised" that Dallas nurse Nina Pham was flown to Frederick Municipal Airport on Thursday night en route to the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center for treatment. Pham was infected with Ebola while treating Duncan, a Liberian man who had flown to the U.S. shortly before being diagnosed.

"We have the best public health institutions in the world located in our state," O'Malley said.

O'Malley also encouraged Marylanders to get flu shots as the season for that illness begins, saying that could help free up resources to deal with any Ebola concerns. "The fewer the people in Maryland that come down with the flu, the fewer false positives we'll have to run down," he said.

Pham was in fair condition at a special NIH unit that combines research and clinical care, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said Friday.

She has received a transfusion of plasma from Dr. Kent Brantly, another Ebola patient taken to Emory University Hospital and released in late August after recovering. But Fauci wouldn't say if she has or would receive any experimental drugs, citing patient confidentiality.

A staff of five doctors and nurses on 12-hour shifts are tending to Pham. Two nurses are typically in the room at any time, employing the "buddy system" to ensure all safety protocols are followed, said Dr. Rick Davey, deputy clinical director in the Division of Clinical Research.

NIH has been in contact with other facilities around the country with specialized infectious disease units to "compare notes" on care and protocol, Davey said.

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Fauci said NIH staff are highly trained and could take another patient if needed. He would not say what survival rate he expects from patients getting intensive care in the United States, but he noted that in less-optimal conditions in West Africa it would be no better than 50 percent.

"We hope Nina Pham recovers completely and walks out of this hospital," Fauci said.

The risk of new cases in the U.S. remains while the Ebola outbreak continues in West Africa, Maryland Health Secretary Dr. Joshua Sharfstein said. But he emphasized that the public health risk here is low, and only health workers caring for the sickest of patients are at high risk of contracting Ebola.

In a joint statement, the American Hospital Association, American Medical Association and American Nurses Association said they were working to ensure all hospitals and their staffs are prepared.

"We are committed to ensuring that nurses, physicians and all frontline health care providers have the proper training, equipment and protocols to remain safe and provide the highest quality care for the patient," said the statement. "We will review and share updated guidance with our collective membership as it becomes available."

Hopkins took the added step of urging students, faculty and staff not to travel to Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone, the three West African countries where 4,500 people have died of Ebola. In a letter, the institution said they would be required to notify officials, or in some cases seek permission, before visiting any of the countries. If they did travel there, they would face screening and scrutiny before being allowed to return to work or school.

In Washington, congressional Republicans pounced on Obama's appointment Friday of Ron Klain to coordinate the government's response to the virus. The White House said Klain, an attorney and former top aide to two vice presidents, has the experience needed to manage the federal bureaucracy.

Critics, including Republican Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland, said the president should have picked someone with a medical background. He argued that many of the nation's largest hospitals have a pool of leaders who are versed in both management and medicine.

"This just smacks of a political choice — of appointing another bureaucrat," said Harris, a Hopkins-trained anesthesiologist. "The president could have done a much, much better job."

But unlike some in his party, Harris stopped short of calling for the resignation of Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"He's doing as good a job as can be expected, given the difficulty of managing the expectations of the American people," Harris said in an interview.

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Meanwhile in Virginia, there was another Ebola scare. Pentagon officials reported that a woman who recently traveled to Africa had vomited in a parking lot after getting off a bus headed to a Marine Corps ceremony. The bus and its passengers were quarantined for about four hours.

The woman, reported to be a civilian, was taken to Inova Fairfax Hospital. The U.S. military has more than 500 troops in West Africa to help contain Ebola, and more are expected to be sent. Officials said none has shown Ebola symptoms.

And an unidentified worker from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital where Duncan was treated has been put in isolation on a cruise ship, though the worker has no symptoms of Ebola, the Department of State reported.

The worker could have come in contact with bodily fluids from Duncan. The worker left on a cruise from Galveston on Sunday before being notified of updated CDC requirement for active monitoring. U.S. officials are working to return the ship to the country.

Baltimore Sun reporter John Fritze, Tribune Newspapers wire reports and Reuters contributed to this article.

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