October 8, 2014

First, it will be just five airports in the USA screening passengers for fever arriving from a handful of Ebola affected countries in West Africa.

U.S. to Begin Ebola Screenings at 5 Airports


ATLANTA — Federal officials said Wednesday that they would begin temperature screenings of passengers arriving from West Africa at five American airports, beginning with Kennedy International in New York as early as this weekend, as the United States races to respond to a deadly Ebola outbreak.

Travelers at the four other airports — Washington Dulles International, O’Hare International, Hartsfield-Jackson International and Newark Liberty International — will be screened starting next week, according to federal officials.

The screenings, which will include taking the passengers’ temperatures with a gun-like, noncontact thermometer and requiring them to fill out a questionnaire after deplaning, will be for people arriving from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, the three countries hardest hit by the epidemic.

About 90 percent of the people arriving from the three countries come through the five airports, officials said. Kennedy Airport alone has about 43 percent of the travelers. The second-highest share of visitors — 22 percent — come through Washington Dulles.

Over all, their numbers are relatively small. Of the roughly 36,000 travelers who left the three countries over the past two months, officials said, about a quarter came to the United States. Of those, 77 had symptoms, such as a fever, consistent with early-stage Ebola, but none turned out to have Ebola. Most of the fevers were related to malaria, a disease spread by mosquitoes.

The airport screenings are the federal government’s first large-scale attempt at improving the safety at American ports of entry, a measure many had called for after a Liberian man was treated for Ebola in Dallas, the first case of the disease in the United States. The man, Thomas Eric Duncan, 42, died in isolation at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital on Wednesday.

“We work to continuously increase the safety of Americans,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. “We believe these new measures will further protect the health of Americans, understanding that nothing we can do will get us to absolute zero risk until we end the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.”

The C.D.C. will send personnel to airports to perform the screenings, and Coast Guard members will be deployed to help in the coming weeks.

The instrument that will be used to take people’s temperature uses an infrared beam to take the temperature. If someone has a temperature, that person will be further evaluated by a C.D.C. expert in the airports.

It is the first time that health authorities in the United States have taken the step of monitoring the temperature of people arriving at American airports, and the policy carried broad implications for health departments across the country.

How to respond to someone with a temperature will be up to local health departments, officials said. Local health officials may decide to quarantine a traveler, something that is legal under American law, or to transport a traveler to the hospital. In Texas, health authorities decided to require some of the people who had contact with Mr. Duncan to be monitored by health professionals, because the professionals did not think the people were capable of taking their temperatures themselves.

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Health checks in airports have been applied to travelers entering the United States in the past — during the SARS epidemic, for example — but no temperature checks were required. Travelers were given yellow cards that explained the signs and symptoms of SARS and warned them that if the symptoms developed, they should bring the cards to physicians.

Officials are also working to coordinate efforts with countries that receive connecting flights from West Africa with United States-bound passengers so that the C.D.C. questionnaire can be distributed internationally, officials said.

White House officials declined to comment on the new screenings, although in the past several days, administration officials have signaled that they were considering new measures in the United States that would add to the procedures already in place in African countries where the disease is rampant.

President Obama indicated on Monday his desire to increase screenings, saying after a briefing with top health officials that the government was already planning a new approach.

There have been calls to ban travel from the affected countries altogether, but senior administration officials said that would be counterproductive, because it would harm the international effort to quell the disease in West Africa, where it is raging out of control. Further spreading of the disease in Africa would serve only to increase the risks to Americans.

“Banning travel would do more harm than good, and paradoxically it would increase the risk to Americans,” an official said. “People going in have to come out too. The ability to respond to the outbreak would be undermined.”

Republican lawmakers have been highly critical of what they say has been a lax and inadequate response by the Obama administration, and many have pushed to restrict air travel from West Africa.

The criticism has been most pronounced from conservatives like Senator Ted Cruz, who represents Texas and has written to the Federal Aviation Administration asking officials to outline what steps are being taken to keep travelers sick with Ebola from boarding flights bound for the United States. “I remain concerned that we don’t see sufficient seriousness on the part of the federal government about protecting the American public,” Mr. Cruz told a Texas radio station this week.

The screenings are a shift in administration policy from last week, when senior White House officials and doctors at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention resisted calls for trying to take passengers’ temperature as they entered the United States.

In an interview last week, Dr. Frieden, the director of the C.D.C., questioned the wisdom of such an approach, saying that the result would be a great number of “false positives” from people who had fevers because of illnesses other than Ebola.

He questioned who would be trained to take the temperatures, and he said he worried about where people with temperatures would be held temporarily in the airport.

“Like any intervention, there are upsides and downsides,” Dr. Frieden said at the time. “There are a lot of downsides. You slow travel, you end up costing people money. Who’s going to get screened? Who’s going to train them? If you have a positive, where are you going to bring them to?”

He added: “The plain truth is we can’t make the risk zero until the outbreak is controlled in West Africa. What we can do is minimize that risk, as is being done now in Dallas.”

Soon, it will be fifty airports screening passengers for fever on domestic flights as well as flights from fifty more or so countries allegedly infected with Ebola such as Spain etc.

Then, it will be all US airports screening passengers on all domestic and international flights….

Will the screening, quarantine and forced treatment opportunities that the Ebola crisis offers to eliminate political opponents prove too good to miss to the Obama administration?

The CDC are sending personnel to conduct the screenings…

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