Enhanced screening measures aimed at finding travelers infected with Ebola are coming to five of the busiest international airports in the United States, according to federal authorities.
Travelers originating in West African countries will be given questionnaires and have their temperatures taken at these U.S. airports, a federal official said Wednesday.
The heightened screening measures will be rolled out as soon as possible, the official said, perhaps as soon as this weekend. But the details of exactly how this would be implemented remain unclear, with the details under discussion at the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
So far, the screening will occur at five key hubs: John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York; Washington Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C.; O’Hare International Airport, in Chicago; Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta; and Newark Liberty International Airport outside New York.
More than 90 million international passengers flew to the U.S. last year. The top five airports at which they arrived were New York’s JFK, Miami, Los Angeles, Newark, N.J., and Chicago. Much of the international air traffic originates from Canada, Mexico, Britain, Japan and Germany.
Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, had said this week that the agency was exploring ways to increase passenger screening in the wake of an Ebola diagnosis in Dallas, Texas.
“We’re working very intensively on the screening process,” Frieden said during a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “We’re looking at that entire process to see what more can be done.”
Frieden cautioned that any measures were meant to mitigate, rather than eliminate, the danger posed by a traveler who may have Ebola.
“We recognize that whatever we do, until the disease is controlled in Africa, we can’t get the risk to zero here,” he said “We may be able to reduce it.”
The CDC has had teams on the ground working to strengthen the screening of passengers leaving West Africa. This screening has included taking temperatures, keeping an eye out for other symptoms and having travelers fill out questionnaires.
He said the CDC methods have been used to screen more than 36,000 people over two months. And of those travelers, a small portion of whom were coming to the United States, only 77 people had a fever or other symptoms that caused them to be taken out of the line, he said. “As far as we know, none of those 77 people had Ebola,” Frieden noted.
Of course, these methods are not perfect, as was made clear when Thomas Eric Duncan filled out a questionnaire, had his temperature taken by a person trained by the CDC and boarded multiple flights on his way to Dallas, where he was diagnosed with Ebola last week.