Sen. Charles Schumer urged the federal government Sunday to screen more intensively for the Ebola virus at U.S. entry points -- airports, hospitals and ports -- in the wake of the first reported domestic case last week.
Schumer (D-N.Y.) said at a news conference in his midtown Manhattan office that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should train federal Customs and Border Protection airport agents to screen passengers returning to the United States from West Africa. Officials should check temperatures and conduct a survey designed by the CDC for travelers arriving from the affected regions of Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
Schumer said "there's no need for panic," but notes, "you can never be too careful."
He said temperature checks like those done at some airports are a step up from a the current approach -- "passively screening" or visual observations -- to determine if someone is affected.
The CDC on Sept. 30 confirmed the first case of the virus in the United States. The patient, identified by health authorities as Thomas Duncan, was initially sent home after visiting the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. Two days later, he returned to the hospital and was diagnosed.
According to the CDC, 7,470 cases have been reported in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, with 3,431 deaths.
Schumer, citing Liberia's cargo ship industry, said individuals on ships and vessels entering ports in New York and New Jersey should face the same screenings.
The CDC media office did not respond to requests for comment. The CDC website says the agency "is working closely with Customs and Border Protection and other partners at ports of entry" to use routine processes "to identify travelers who show signs of infectious disease."
"If a sick traveler is identified during or after a flight, CDC will conduct an investigation of exposed travelers and work with the airline, federal partners, and state and local health departments to notify them and take any necessary public health action," the agency said on its website.
Schumer also called on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to build a database of passengers traveling to and from West Africa. That information would be available to hospitals across the country and expire 90 days after a person travels.
Schumer said the CDC should allocate additional money and resources to perform "contact tracing" overseas, which would help identify individuals who may have been exposed to the Ebola virus. The CDC notes on its website it has teams overseas conducting the tracing. Schumer said the practice is underfunded.
The CDC says on its website it is "actively conducting" contact tracing in Dallas. Duncan's contacts are being watched for sickness for 21 days and are having their temperatures taken twice a day.
"It's not a disease that spreads quickly," Schumer said, noting the approach was effective in controlling the SARS virus.