Federal agencies will begin enhanced screening of travelers from Ebola-stricken countries at five U.S. airports, starting with Kennedy Airport this Saturday, as health officials intensify their efforts to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.
Travelers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea in West Africa will have their temperatures taken after they disembark from the plane and answer a questionnaire to determine whether they may be exposed to the deadly virus and are a risk to the public, health officials said Wednesday.
The large-scale screening by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Customs and Border Patrol officers will be extended next week to Newark Liberty International in New Jersey, Dulles International near Washington, D.C., O'Hare International in Chicago and Hartsfield-Jackson International in Atlanta.
"We believe these new measures will further protect the health of Americans, understanding that nothing we can do will get us to absolute zero risk until we end the Ebola epidemic in West Africa," Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, said at a news conference.
These five airports receive more than 94 percent of travelers from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, the countries hardest hit by Ebola, according to the CDC. Nearly half of the travelers come through Kennedy Airport.
Lawmakers have been pressuring health officials to increase screenings, some even called for a ban on flights from these West African nations, after a Liberian national, who traveled to Dallas last week, was diagnosed with Ebola.
The man, Thomas Eric Duncan, 42, the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S., died Wednesday at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital.
The Ebola outbreak has already killed more than 3,000 people and infected another 7,200 people, mostly in West Africa.
Each day, about 150 travelers from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea enter the U.S., Frieden said.
After passengers get off the planes, Customs and Border Patrol officers will escort them to a screening area, where CDC medical staff will take their temperatures with a noncontact thermometer, look for signs of illness, and ask about their health and possible exposure to Ebola.
If someone has fever, that person will be evaluated by a member of the CDC stationed inside the airports. It will be up to local health departments to decide how to care for someone who has a temperature, including quarantine for the person.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York), who called for increased screenings, said every ship that docks in the ports of New York and Connecticut will also be checked because Liberia has the second-largest merchant fleet of any country.
"When one person, a single person got through, Mr. Duncan, it threw a huge metropolitan area into total discombobulation," Schumer said. "So, it makes sense ... to go through a little more effort and a little more expense to prevent even that one extra person from getting through."
With Darran Simon