WASHINGTON -- Security officials will start taking an extra look at travelers coming to the U.S. from Ebola-stricken countries, the government announced Wednesday.
People traveling from West Africa will have their temperatures taken via "non-contact thermometer" at five U.S. airports, according to the announcement from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"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," CDC director Tom Frieden said in a press release.
Screening starts at New York’s JFK International Airport on Saturday, with Washington-Dulles, Newark, Chicago-O'Hare and Atlanta international airports following next week. Officials said 94 percent of travelers from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone come to the U.S. through those five airports.
"Taking temperatures and learning more about passengers coming here from West Africa will provide another necessary line of defense against this epidemic," Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who had pushed for the additional screening, said in an emailed statement. "As we saw in Dallas, all it takes is one case to discombobulate an entire city."
The Obama administration has resisted calls from Republican leaders to implement an outright travel ban on people from Ebola-stricken countries, instead saying airport screening is effective. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the screening would affect roughly 150 people per day.
Officials say nobody has contracted Ebola in the United States, though Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian man who had recently traveled to Texas, died from Ebola at a Dallas hospital on Wednesday morning. More than 3,000 people have died in West Africa, with thousands more infected.
Here's how the new airport screening will work, according to the press release:
- Travelers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone will be escorted by [Customs and Border Protection] to an area of the airport set aside for screening.
- Trained CBP staff will observe them for signs of illness, ask them a series of health and exposure questions and provide health information for Ebola and reminders to monitor themselves for symptoms. Trained medical staff will take their temperature with a non-contact thermometer.
- If the travelers have fever or symptoms, or the health questionnaire reveals possible Ebola exposure, they will be evaluated by a CDC quarantine station public health officer. The public health officer will again take a temperature reading and make a public health assessment. Travelers who after this assessment are determined to require further evaluation or monitoring will be referred to the appropriate public health authority.
- Travelers from these countries who have neither symptoms/fever nor a known history of exposure will receive health information for self-monitoring, be asked to complete a daily temperature log, and be asked to provide their contact information.