Some passengers traveling to the United States by way of New York City will now be screened upon arrival for Ebola in a joint effort between the U. S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Customs and health officials at John F. Kennedy International Airport welcomed travelers from three West Africa countries on Saturday with questionnaires and temperature guns in hand as a precautionary measure to help stop the spread of the deadly virus which has already claimed more than 4,000 lives worldwide.
JFK became the first airport to implement the enhanced procedures targeting passengers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – countries at the center of the outbreak.
Officials plan to expand the screenings over the course of next week to four additional airports: Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Dulles International Airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Newark International Airport.
“Officers look for overt signs of illness and can obtain additional information from the travelers during the inspection interview. If a traveler is identified with overt signs of a communicable disease of public health significance, the traveler is isolated from the traveling public and referred to CDC’s Regional Quarantine Officers or local public health for medical evaluation,” said U.S. Customs of Border Protection Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowski at a press conference on Saturday.
Two Texas lawmakers – Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Michael McCaul – formally requested on Friday that Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport also conduct an extra layer of screening.
Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian man who suffered from Ebola, died while receiving care at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. He was the first person to ever be diagnosed with that illness in America.
The CDC warned these new Ebola screening procedures in major U.S. airports won’t completely wipe out the risks of catching the disease.
“This is another extra added layer,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told msnbc. “Already when you have the exit screening that takes place at the airports in the West African countries that diminishes greatly any risk. If you add now the entry screening … that brings the risk down even to a much much lower level.”