Centers for Disease Control director Tom Frieden told Congress Thursday that the best the CDC can do is monitor incoming travelers from Ebola-stricken countries, even if they’re not stopping them from spreading it in the U.S.
Frieden and other U.S. health officials were hammered by lawmakers on Thursday over whether current CDC protocols for fighting Ebola are working well enough, with Republican Rep. Cory Gardner arguing that thousands of people from stricken countries a year would be missed by current screening procedures.
Frieden, the administration’s face to the public for fighting Ebola, said that halting flights from countries battling Ebola epidemics would mean that U.S. agencies wouldn’t be able to know which people in the U.S. have had contact with it.
“We won’t be able to check them for fever when they leave,” Frieden said, “or when they arrive. When they arrive, we wouldn’t be able to obtain detailed locating information, which we do now…we wouldn’t be able to provide all that information as we do now so that we can monitor them.”
While travelers may be monitored, there’s no stopping them from moving about the country. A Dallas nurse infected with Ebola flew to Cleveland while the CDC asked her to self-monitor for signs of the disease. Seven people in Ohio have now been quarantined.
When congressmen pointed out that customs officials have a record of where travelers are coming from, Frieden argued that “borders are porous.”
The administration’s screening plan for flights from West Africa will miss 2,000 to 3,000 people from Ebola-affected countries a year, Rep. Cory Gardner pointed out during the hearing.
The CDC is taking the temperatures of travelers from West Africa at five international airports, but that will capture just 94 percent of incoming passengers from affected countries.
John Wagner of the Customs and Border Protection agency told the committee that officials are trained to look for signs of sickness and that they’re handing out fact sheets to people from affected countries.
Even if the screening measures are implemented perfectly, those in the first several weeks of Ebola incubation may not be displaying symptoms.
No public health or customs official was able to answer how many planes are coming to the United States, ultimately from Ebola-stricken countries in West Africa.
The White House said again on Thursday that a travel ban is still out of the question.