U.S. To Begin Ebola Screenings For Travelers From West Africa
Starting as early as this weekend, the U.S. will be screening arriving passengers from West Africa for signs of the Ebola virus:
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.
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.
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.
Although it’s not entirely clear, one presumes that this screening will include passengers from the affected countries who arrive in the United States on non-direct flights. Thomas Eric Duncan, the Ebola patient in Dallas who died today, came to the United States via a flight that originated in Liberia but passed through Europe on his way to another stop at Dulles Airport, for example, so one assumes that the new protocols will cover this type of situation. On the whole, though, this seems like a prudent move under the circumstances. As I noted when I discussed the debate over whether to ban travel from west Africa altogether, to some degree allowing it to go forward depends on how rigorous the screening process at the originating airport may be. In addition to being able to possible catch people who were not exhibiting symptoms when they departed due to the passage of time, a measure like this can act as something of a back stop against mistakes at the point of origin.