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Latest News: Mali seeks to contain Ebola fears after girl dies

Mali authorities on Saturday scrambled to calm fears over Ebola after the disease claimed its first victim in the African country, a contagious toddler who took a 1,000-kilometre journey on public buses before seeking treatment.

The World Health Organization warned the situation in Mali was an "emergency," and said in its latest Ebola situation report that the biggest outbreak on record has now killed 4,922 people, the vast majority of them in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, with 10,141 cases reported.

The US states of New York and New Jersey ordered mandatory quarantine for medics who had treated victims of the disease in west Africa, after a doctor who had returned from the region became the first Ebola case in New York City.

President Barack Obama sought to calm a jittery public by hugging one of the two nurses who became the first to contract Ebola on American soil after treating a patient, but has now been declared free of the disease.

Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita aimed to ease fears after the death of a two-year-old girl, the first Ebola case in the landlocked country, who travelled from neighbouring Guinea.

"We are doing everything to prevent panic and psychosis," he said in an interview with French radio.

"Since the start of this epidemic, we in Mali took all measures to be safe, but we never hermetically sealed ourselves from this," he said.

"Guinea is a neighbouring country, we have a common border that we have not closed and that we will not close."

- Mali 'emergency' -

But WHO said it was treating the situation in Mali as an "emergency" because the toddler had travelled for hundreds of kilometres on public transport with her grandmother while showing symptoms of the disease -- meaning that she was contagious.

She was said to be secreting bodily fluids -- contact with which is how the virus is passed on.

"The child's symptomatic state during the bus journey is especially concerning, as it presented multiple opportunities for exposures -? including high-risk exposures -- involving many people," the UN agency said.

The girl and her grandmother travelled by public transport from Keweni in Guinea through the towns of Kankan, Sigouri and Kouremale to the Malian capital, Bamako.

"The two stayed in Bamako for two hours before travelling on to Kayes," in Mali's southwest, where treatment was sought for the child, the WHO said.

The route made for a journey of around 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) that would likely take the better part of 24 hours.

"Bleeding from the nose began while both were still in Guinea, meaning that the child was symptomatic during their travels through Mali... multiple opportunities for exposure occurred when the child was visibly symptomatic."

An Ebola victim is contagious when showing symptoms of the virus, such as a high fever.

The Malian authorities were tracing everyone who had contact with the girl and her grandmother and 43 people had been placed under observation, the WHO said.

- Mandatory US quarantines -

New York City's first Ebola case, 33-year-old doctor Craig Spencer who fell ill one week after returning from treating patients in Guinea, was said to be in a stable condition in isolation at the city's Bellevue Hospital Center.

His fiancee and two of his friends are in quarantine but appear healthy, officials said.

In the wake of his diagnosis in the country's largest city, the US states of New York and New Jersey ordered mandatory quarantines of 21 days -- the maximum gestation period for Ebola -- for any individuals who have had direct contact with an Ebola patient while in the worst affected countries.

Dallas-based nurse Nina Pham, who became the first person to contract Ebola in the US after treating an Ebola patient who eventually died at a Dallas hospital, was declared free of the disease.

"I am on my way back to recovery even as I reflect on how many others have not been so fortunate," Pham said before meeting Obama, who gave her a bear hug in an effort to reassure a public nervous over the virus.

Her nursing colleague Amber Vinson, who had also caught the disease, has also been given the all-clear.

- Vaccine doses by 2015 -

The search for an effective vaccine to fight the disease for which there is currently no licensed cure took on fresh urgency as the WHO said several hundred thousand doses could be available in the "first half" of 2015.

Experts are pinning their hopes on the experimental vaccine rVSV, with doses arriving in Geneva for a new round of trials, and ChAd3, made by Britain's GlaxoSmithKline.

Five other potential vaccines are in the pipeline.

Whichever proves effective in trials, WHO hopes to send huge numbers of doses to Africa for "real-world" tests.

"The pharmaceutical companies developing all these vaccines are committing to ramping up the production capacity to millions of doses to be available in 2015," said WHO assistant director general Marie-Paule Kieny.

Latest News: WHO: Number of Ebola-linked cases passes 10,000

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — More than 10,000 people have been infected with Ebola, according to figures released Saturday by the World Health Organization, as the outbreak continues to spread.

Of those cases, 4,922 people have died.

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa is the largest ever outbreak of the disease with a rapidly rising death toll in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. There have also been cases in three other West African countries, Spain and the United States.

The U.N. health agency said Saturday that the number of confirmed, probable and suspected cases has risen to 10,141. Its figures show about 200 new cases since the last report, four days ago.

Even those grisly tolls are likely an underestimate, WHO has warned, as many people in the hardest hit countries have been unable or too frightened to seek medical care. A shortage of labs capable of handling potentially infected blood samples has also made it difficult to track the outbreak. For example, the latest numbers show no change in Liberia's case toll, suggesting the numbers may be lagging behind reality.

On Thursday, authorities confirmed that the disease had spread to Mali, the sixth West African country affected, and on the same day a new case was confirmed in New York, in a doctor recently returned from Guinea.

Mali had long been considered highly vulnerable to the disease, since it shares a border with Guinea. The disease arrived there in a 2-year-old, who traveled from Guinea with her grandmother by bus and died Friday.

The toddler, who was bleeding from her nose during the journey, may have had high-risk contact with many people, the World Health Organization warned. So far, 43 people are being monitored in isolation for signs of the disease, and WHO said Saturday that authorities are continuing to look for more people at risk.

To help fight Ebola, the U.N. humanitarian flight service airlifted about 1 ton of medical supplies to Mali late Friday. The seats of the plane were removed to make room for the cargo, which included hazard suits for health workers, surgical gloves, face shields and buckets, according to the World Food Program, which runs the flights.

"Speed is of the essence in this Ebola crisis. Agencies such as WFP and WHO are working every hour to confront together the virus as a matter of priority," said Denise Brown, the West Africa regional director for the U.N. food agency.

Latest News: Obama reassures Ebola-wary American public

President Barack Obama told Americans Saturday that they must be "guided by the facts, not fear" when it comes to the deadly Ebola virus, as he urged a sensible vigilance.

"Patients can beat this disease. And we can beat this disease," Obama said in his weekly address to the nation, as he sought to reassure the Ebola-wary public that the disease does not spread easily.

The announcement came less than a week after the fiancee and almost 50 other people who had been in contact with a Liberian man, Thomas Eric Duncan, who died after becoming the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the United States, emerged from 21 days of quarantine with no signs of illness.

"In Dallas, dozens of family, friends and others who had been in close contact with the first patient, Mr Duncan, were declared free of Ebola -- a reminder that this disease is actually very hard to catch," Obama said.

"Others being monitored -- including health care workers who were most at risk -- were also declared Ebola-free," Obama said.

Meanwhile two American nurses who contracted Ebola while caring for Duncan were declared cured Friday. One was healthy enough to leave the hospital and meet Obama for a hug.

The good news for the nurses came as the city of New York was dealing with its first case after an American doctor, Craig Spencer, was diagnosed with Ebola on Thursday after returning from Guinea, where he had helped tend the sick.

Obama said that New Yorkers had responded to the case correctly by continuing to "do what they do every day: jumping on buses, riding the subway, crowding into elevators, heading into work, gathering in parks."

"That's the spirit all of us can draw upon, as Americans, as we meet this challenge together," Obama said, adding that people "have to stay vigilant."

"We have to be guided by the science -- we have to be guided by the facts, not fear," Obama said.

"It's important to remember that, of the seven Americans treated so far for Ebola -- the five who contracted it in West Africa, plus the two nurses from Dallas -- all seven have survived," Obama added.

The states of New York and New Jersey on Friday ordered a mandatory quarantine for medics who treated victims of Ebola in West Africa.

Nearly 4,900 people have died of Ebola so far this year, mainly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Latest News: Ebola death toll tops 4,900 as virus spreads - WHO

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - The death toll from the Ebola epidemic rose to 4,922 out of 10,141 known cases in eight countries through Oct. 23, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Saturday.

The virus, which reached Mali through a two-year-old girl who died on Friday, now threatens Ivory Coast, having infected people virtually all along its borders with Guinea and Liberia.

Ivory Coast is the world's biggest cocoa producer. The Ebola outbreak has hurt the economic growth that has been raising living standards in the region.

The three worst-hit countries of West Africa -- Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone -- account for the bulk of the world's worst Ebola outbreak, recording 4,912 deaths out of 10,114 cases, the WHO said in its update.

The overall figures include outbreaks in Nigeria and Senegal, deemed by the WHO to be now over, as well as isolated cases in Spain, the United States and a single case in Mali.

But the true toll may be three times as much: by a factor of 1.5 in Guinea, 2 in Sierra Leone and 2.5 in Liberia, while the death rate is thought to be about 70 percent of all cases.

The WHO has said that many families are keeping infected people at home rather than putting them into isolation in treatment centres, some of which have refused patients due to a lack of beds and basic supplies.

The U.N. agency, sounding an ominous note, said that out of the eight districts of Liberia and Guinea sharing a border with Ivory Coast, only two have yet to report confirmed or probable Ebola cases.

It has also said trials of Ebola vaccines could begin in West Africa in December, a month earlier than expected, and hundreds of thousands of doses should be available for use by the middle of next year.

The WHO says 15 African states including Ivory Coast are at highest risk of the deadly virus being imported.

In the last 10 days it sent teams to both priority Mali and Ivory Coast to help national authorities gear up their capacity to detect and treat potential cases. Four WHO experts are travelling this weekend to Mali to reinforce the team there.

The agency warned on Friday that many people in Mali had potentially been exposed to the virus because the little girl was taken across the country while ill. Some 43 people with whom she was in contact, including 10 health care workers, are being monitored for symptoms that include fever.

In all, 450 health care workers have been infected to date -- including one in Spain and three in the United States -- leading to the death of 244 of them, the WHO said.

"At the same time, exhaustive efforts are ongoing to ensure an ample supply of optimal personal protective equipment to all Ebola treatment facilities, along with the provision of training and relevant guidelines to ensure that all HCWs (health care workers) are exposed to the minimum possible level of risk."

A medical worker quarantined in New Jersey on her return from treating Ebola victims in West Africa was being evaluated in a hospital isolation ward on Saturday after new contagion-control safeguards were imposed for America's biggest urban centre.

Isolation wards have been used for medical personnel returning from Ebola zones since Craig Spencer, a doctor who treated patients in Guinea for a month, came back to New York City infected.

"The patient is currently in isolation at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, one of eight New York State hospitals that have been designated to treat patients with Ebola Virus Disease. Possible contacts are being identified and followed up," WHO said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Heinrich/Ruth Pitchford)

Latest News: Ebola medical worker quarantined in New Jersey tests negative for virus

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A medical worker in New Jersey quarantined after arriving at an airport after treating Ebola victims in West Africa has tested negative for the virus, the state's health department said on Saturday.

The worker, who has not been identified, was the first to be quarantined under a new policy announced on Friday making this mandatory for anyone arriving at a New York City-area airport after working with Ebola patients in three West African countries.

The worker continues to be under a mandatory 21-day quarantine, the department said in its statement.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Latest News: Mali to keep Guinea border open despite Ebola death - president

BAMAKO (Reuters) - Mali will not close its border with neighbouring Guinea after a two-year-old girl infected with Ebola was brought across the frontier by her grandmother and died in Mali this week, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita said on Saturday.

The girl travelled hundreds of kilometres through Mali - including a stop in the capital Bamako - on public transport, potentially exposing many people to the virus, before she died in the western town of Kayes on Friday.

Keita said that the incident showed it was impossible to completely seal his country off from Ebola in neighbouring Guinea but said he remained calm as the girl's journey and potential contacts had already been traced.

"Guinea is Mali's neighbour. We have a shared border that we did not close and we will not close," he told France's RFI radio station.

Land-locked Mali relies on the ports of neighbouring Senegal, Guinea and Ivory Coast as gateways for much of its import needs. There is little accurate data but border closures by West African states trying to protect themselves from the epidemic have had a crippling effect on regional economies.

Keita said that the girl's grandmother had made a mistake by going to a funeral in Guinea, where more than 900 people have died of Ebola, and bringing her back.

"We are paying dearly for this," he said. "But I think this will cause more fear than anything else. The case was quickly contained."

Local and international Ebola experts are rushing teams to Mali to help try to contain the outbreak in the sixth West African nation to record Ebola this year. Senegal and Nigeria have contained outbreaks and been declared free of the disease.

At least 4,922 people have died of Ebola, mainly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, though the real figure may be as much as three times higher due to under-reporting.

Over 10,000 people have been infected by the disease but U.N. experts warn that figure risks rising exponentially in coming weeks if the global response pledged does not swiftly translate into action on the ground.

Diplomats and health experts say the girl appears to have had Ebola-like symptoms and travelled for four days before she was eventually diagnosed with the disease on Oct. 23. Ebola cases are contagious as soon as they show symptoms.

The World Health Organisation said that 43 contacts had been identified and isolated. But a Malian health official, who asked not to be identified, said authorities estimated that at least 300 people had been in contact with the infected child.

"We will do everything we can to avoid panic. I notice that Bamako is calm today," Keita said.

(Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Rosalind Russell)

Latest News: Colleagues: US doctor with Ebola was very careful

CONAKRY, Guinea (AP) — An American doctor who caught Ebola while treating patients in Guinea was a hard worker who conscientiously followed safety procedures, two colleagues said Saturday.

Craig Spencer is being treated for Ebola in New York City after coming down with a fever on Thursday, about a week after he returned from Guinea. The 33-year-old was working at a Doctors Without Borders clinic in Gueckedou, in southeastern Guinea, according to two members of the clinic's staff.

The staffers — a hygienist and a social worker — spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press. Doctors Without Borders has confirmed an American doctor is ill, but it has refused to release details about Spencer or his work, citing concerns for his privacy.

Gueckedou is the epicenter of the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The first cases were reported in that region in March, and the epidemic has since grown into the largest ever outbreak of Ebola, with more than 10,000 cases and nearly 5,000 deaths, according to figures released by the World Health Organization Saturday.

"We are demoralized and saddened by what's happened to Craig," said the social worker, who supports patients during what is typically a grueling and frightening illness. "He did excellent work."

Spencer's work included direct contact with sick people: taking their temperature, following the evolution of their cases, taking their vital signs and ensuring the clinic was properly maintained, he said.

"I'm asking myself how he got the virus because he was a rigorous man," added the hygienist, whose job is to clean patients, who often have severe diarrhea and are vomiting and bleeding profusely. "Since we learned that he was infected, we've had low morale. And we understand that we are also at risk despite the measures."

Doctors Without Borders has been a major provider of care during the current Ebola outbreak and in all recent ones. Its procedures for everything from how clinics should be set up to how doctors and nurses should take off protective equipment are considered the gold standard when dealing with highly infectious diseases, like Ebola.

At Ebola clinics, there are elaborate procedures for how health workers undress and disinfect their equipment and the site, and the hygienist said the disinfection teams at Gueckedou make sure those procedures are followed to the letter.

But Doctors Without Borders has warned that no matter how careful health workers are, the risk can never be zero. It said Friday that it did not yet know how Spencer became infected but that it is investigating.

Staff at the Gueckedou clinic are also redoubling their efforts to stay safe, the hygienist said.

"Since his sickness was announced, I've seen the bosses here looking to reinforce our protections and to see where there are weaknesses," he said.

Both workers said they thought the Gueckedou clinic is well maintained, with nothing taken for granted.

The hygienist said: "We are praying for Craig and for ourselves because we rub shoulders with death every day."

Latest News: Obama commends New Yorkers for calm reaction to Ebola threat

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama on Saturday commended New Yorkers for their calm reaction to the city's first case of Ebola and said that medical authorities were responding effectively to the threat from the deadly virus.

He used his weekly address for the second time in a row to speak directly to Americans about the response to Ebola, that has killed thousands in Africa and has become a political issue in the United States ahead of Nov. 4 congressional elections.

"It's important to remember that of the seven Americans treated so far for Ebola - the five who contracted it in West Africa, plus the two nurses from Dallas - all seven have survived," Obama said.

He did not refer to new 21-day quarantines implemented late on Friday by New York and New Jersey for medical workers returning from Ebola hotspots. His administration is discussing similar measures.

"We have been examining the protocols for protecting our brave healthcare workers, and, guided by the science, we'll continue to work with state and local officials to take the necessary steps to ensure the safety and health of the American people," Obama said.

The first person to be quarantined under the states' new measures was a medical worker who arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport on Friday after treating Ebola victims in West Africa.

The worker, who has not been publicly identified, has tested negative for the virus, New Jersey's health department said on Saturday, but remains in isolation at University Hospital in Newark.

Under the new policy, which exceeds federal guidelines, anyone arriving at airports in the two states after having contact with Ebola patients in Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea must submit to a mandatory 21-day quarantine.

The worst Ebola outbreak since the disease was identified in 1976 has killed almost half of more than 10,000 people diagnosed with the disease -- predominantly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea -- although the true toll is far higher, according to the World Health Organization.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie put the screening measures in place after Dr. Craig Spencer, a 33-year-old New Yorker who had been treating Ebola patients in Guinea, tested positive for Ebola on Thursday.

Spencer, who spent a month in the West African nation working with the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders, was the fourth person diagnosed with the virus in the United States and the first in its largest city.

The unidentified healthcare worker in New Jersey did not have any symptoms when she arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport on Friday, officials said, but developed a fever while quarantined at the airport before being taken to the Newark hospital.

Despite the negative test result, she will remain under mandatory quarantine for the full 21 days, the virus's maximum incubation period, the New Jersey health department said.

The federal government is considering similar quarantine rules, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The virus is not airborne but is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected person who is showing symptoms.

(Editing by Frank McGurty and Louise Ireland)

Latest News: Jones 'not afraid' of NHS scrutiny
Carwyn JonesFirst Minister Carwyn Jones welcomes scrutiny of the NHS in Wales

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First Minister Carwyn Jones has told the BBC he is not afraid of scrutiny of the Welsh NHS.

On BBC Radio 4's Any Questions, he said Wales will participate in a study of the UK's different health services.

The independent think-tank, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, will carry it out.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has urged the Welsh government to take part and its findings to be published before the general election.

But Mr Jones said an agreement between the four governments has been broken by the Department of Health.

Mr Jones told Any Questions: "There will be an OECD survey.

'Not afraid'

"We've never said we wouldn't have it.

"The question is that there was an agreement between the four governments as to the way in which those reports would be handled and the Department of Health decided to break that agreement.

"We're not afraid of scrutiny, by any stretch of the imagination.

"I'm not going to pretend to you that everything is sweetness and light in the health service in Wales, or in England, Scotland or Northern Ireland, that wouldn't be sensible.

"We will have the OECD in, but we can't have the OECD in on terms that are set by the Department of Health."

The state of the Welsh NHS, which has been under particular scrutiny following a series of articles in the Daily Mail, dominated Any Questions, which was broadcast from Brecon on Friday.

Plaid Cymru AM Rhun ap Iorwerth said although he felt the Daily Mail coverage was politically motivated, the NHS in Wales is "facing problems that the Welsh government is not facing up to".

He said the government in Cardiff Bay must tackle problems in areas such as recruitment and diagnostic tests.

'Honest culture'

"The Welsh government must accept the problems and put a strategy in place.

"We need a diagnostic look at the state of the NHS in Wales," Mr ap Iorwerth said.

In response, Carwyn Jones acknowledged there are "issues" in the Welsh NHS that "need to be dealt with, but insisted that the problems are not unique to Wales, and that most patients get "excellent care".

The Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin who was also on the panel criticised Labour for "resisting" an inquiry into the health service, but said the NHS should not be a "political football".

"We have to have a much more open and honest culture about healthcare," he said.

"I believe Jeremy Hunt is promoting that culture.

"We ought to have much more cross-party co-operation (on the NHS) rather than fighting".

Any Questions is available on the BBC IPlayer

Latest News: Ebola death toll tops 4,900 out of more than 10,000 cases - WHO

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - The death toll from the Ebola epidemic rose to 4,922 out of 10,141 known cases in eight countries through Oct. 23, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Saturday.

The three worst-hit countries of West Africa - Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone - account for the bulk, recording 4,912 deaths out of 10,114 cases, the WHO said in its update.

The overall figures include outbreaks in Nigeria and Senegal, deemed by the WHO to be now over, as well as isolated cases in Spain, the United States and a single case in Mali.

But the true toll may be three times as much: by a factor of 1.5 in Guinea, 2 in Sierra Leone and 2.5 in Liberia, while the death rate is thought to be about 70 percent of all cases.

Explaining these projections, the WHO said many families are keeping infected people at home rather than putting them into isolation in treatment centres, some of which have refused patients due to overcrowding.

The U.N. agency, sounding an ominous note, said that out of the eight districts of Liberia and Guinea sharing a border with Ivory Coast, only two have yet to report confirmed or probable Ebola cases. The WHO says 15 African states including Ivory Coast are at highest risk of the deadly virus being imported.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Latest News: Obama: Science, not fear, key to Ebola response

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama says the U.S. must be guided by science — not fear — as it responds to Ebola.

In his weekly radio and Internet address, Obama says he was proud to give nurse Texas Nina Pham a hug in the Oval Office after she was cured of Ebola. He says the other nurse who contracted Ebola is also improving.

Obama is praising New York's quick reaction to its first Ebola cast. He says he's promised local officials any federal help they need.

Obama is reminding Americans they can't contract Ebola unless they come into direct contact with a patient's bodily fluids.

The president says the U.S. can beat the disease if it remains vigilant. He says the best way to stop it is at its source in West Africa.

___

Online: http://www.whitehouse.gov

Latest News: Obama: 'We have to be guided by the facts, not fear' on Ebola

By Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama commended New Yorkers for their calm reaction to the city's first case of Ebola and told Americans in his weekly address that the response to domestic cases of the deadly disease needs to be based on "facts, not fear."

It was the second week in a row that Obama used his address to speak directly to Americans about the response to Ebola, which has turned into a political issue in the days leading up to Nov. 4 congressional elections.

"We have to be guided by the facts, not fear," Obama said.

"Yesterday, New Yorkers showed us the way. They did what they do every day: jumping on buses, riding the subway, crowding into elevators, heading into work, gathering in parks," he said. 

Obama praised the fast response by New York City officials in isolating and treating Dr. Craig Spencer, a humanitarian aid worker who tested positive for Ebola on Thursday, the fourth person diagnosed with the virus in the United States.

Early mistakes treating a Liberian man who died of the disease in Dallas led to two nurses contracting Ebola, raising anxiety across the country. But Obama emphasized that officials around the country have since stepped up training and screening measures, and have the situation under control.

One of the Dallas nurses, Nina Pham, was released from hospital on Friday after successful treatment for disease, and the other nurse, Amber Vinson, is also doing well.

"It's important to remember that of the seven Americans treated so far for Ebola - the five who contracted it in West Africa, plus the two nurses from Dallas - all seven have survived," Obama said.

He did not address new 21-day quarantines implemented late on Friday by New York and New Jersey for medical workers returning from Ebola hot zones. The administration is discussing similar measures.

"We have been examining the protocols for protecting our brave health care workers, and, guided by the science, we'll continue to work with state and local officials to take the necessary steps to ensure the safety and health of the American people," Obama said.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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