The Obama administration announced a list of measures to enhance Ebola screenings in a few days, but even the updates likely wouldn’t have discovered that Thomas Duncan was infected with the disease.
The Department of Homeland Security and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday morning that Customs and Border Protection officials will be implementing additional screenings at five large international U.S. airports. Advanced screenings will begin at New York’s JFK Airport on Saturday. New Jersey’s Newark, Washington’s Dulles, Chicago’s O’Hare and Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airports will not begin stricter screenings until next week.
CBP agents will be asking more targeted questions to passengers and test passengers’ temperature with non-contact thermometer (FDA-approved, of course). They’ll also be gathering U.S.-based contact information for passengers that are coming from the three countries battling epidemics — Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
They’ll also be posting notices at airports in West Africa and the U.S. to raise awareness amongst travelers and providing information and guidelines to airlines.
However, the new screenings would not have detected Thomas Duncan’s case. Duncan, who died Wednesday morning, flew from Liberia to Dallas, Texas, while in the early stages of Ebola, before he was capable of spreading the disease and before he exhibited signs of the disease.
Texas authorities are still monitoring 48 people who may have had contact with Duncan for signs or symptoms of Ebola.
“As long as Ebola continues to spread in Africa, we can’t make the risk zero here,” Frieden said Wednesday. He criticized calls for a ban on all travel between the three countries with outbreaks and the U.S., however, arguing that restrictions will make it difficult to get health care workers in and out of West Africa, potentially harming efforts to stem the epidemic there.
Department of Homeland Security deputy secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Wednesday that the agency will be monitoring any passenger that’s passed through West Africa, whether they fly directly to the U.S. or not. Close to 150 travelers from West Africa enter the U.S. daily, almost all from those five airports.
Mayorkas did not rule out whether the administration would implement further screenings or travel restrictions if the problem escalates. Mayorkas and CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden emphasized that they’re “continuously assessing the situation.”