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Five U.S. Airports Are Enacting New Screening Measures to Protect Against Ebola

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announce that five U.S. airports will begin enhanced Ebola screening for all people coming from Ebola-affected countries.

Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that the following five U.S. airports will soon begin enhanced Ebola screening for all travelers coming from Ebola-affected countries:

  • John F. Kennedy International Airport - New York, NY
  • Washington Dulles International Airport - Washington, D.C.
  • Newark Liberty International Airport - Newark, NJ
  • Chicago O'Hare International Airport - Chicago, IL
  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport - Atlanta, GA

These five airports receive more than 94% of travelers coming to the United States from the Ebola-affected nations of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

The specifics

Here's what will happen after travelers' passports are reviewed upon their arrival at any of these airports:

  • Travelers from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone will be escorted by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) 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, 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. 

JFK International Airport will implement the new screening measures this Saturday, while Washington Dulles, Newark, Chicago O'Hare, and Atlanta will begin next week. CDC is also sending additional staff to these five airports.

“CBP personnel will continue to observe all travelers entering the United States for general overt signs of illnesses at all U.S. ports of entry and these expanded screening measures will provide an additional layer of protection to help ensure the risk of Ebola in the United States is minimized,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson. “CBP, working closely with CDC, will continue to assess the risk of the spread of Ebola into the United States, and take additional measures, as necessary, to protect the American people.”

What the affected West African countries are doing on their end

These enhanced screening measures complement the exit screening protocols already in place in the affected West African countries. CDC experts have worked closely with local authorities to implement these measures.

Since the beginning of August, CDC has been working with airlines, airports, ministries of health, and other partners to provide technical assistance for the development of exit screening and travel restrictions in countries affected by Ebola. This includes:

  • Assessing the capacity to conduct exit screening at international airports
  • Assisting countries with procuring supplies needed to conduct exit screening
  • Supporting with development of exit screening protocols
  • Developing tools such as posters, screening forms, and job-aids
  • Training staff on exit screening protocols and appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)

All passengers leaving the affected countries are screened for Ebola symptoms before they leave. The exit screening process involves travelers responding to a travel health questionnaire, being visually assessed for potential illness, and having their body temperature measured.

Over the past two months -- since exit screening began in the affected countries -- 36,000 people have been screened, and 77 of them were not allowed to board their flight because of the screening process. None of the 77 passengers were diagnosed with Ebola, and many were diagnosed as ill with malaria -- a disease common in West Africa, transmitted by mosquitoes and not contagious from one person to another.

Read the press release from CDC and DHS here.

President Obama holds a conference call with state and local public health officials

On a conference call with state and local public health officials this afternoon, President Obama expressed his gratitude for their hard work to protect Americans' health and safety, reiterating that the Administration is "working aggressively" to fight the outbreak both at home and abroad:

Right now, a lot of people’s attention is focused on our efforts to prevent an Ebola outbreak in the United States.  And I want everybody to know that from day one, this administration has made fighting Ebola a national security priority.  We don’t think this is just a humanitarian issue or a public health issue, this is a national security priority.  And we are working aggressively to stop the epidemic in West Africa, to stop any cases in their tracks here at home.

On Monday, I met with my team to review our efforts.  They’re here today to update you on what we’re doing, to answer your questions, make sure all of you have the information that you need to keep the people in your communities healthy and safe.

And the American people are reasonably concerned -- Ebola is a terrible disease, and the fact that in an interconnected world infectious disease can be transported across borders is one of the reasons we have to take it seriously.  At the same time, as I think all of us have tried to emphasize, it’s important that, as public officials, we know and reinforce the facts.  Because we’ve got a world-class medical system, because we’ve put in place tough safety measures, because of the work that many of you have done in conjunction with organizations like the CDC and dealing with infectious disease generally, and because of the nature of Ebola and the fact that it’s not something involving airborne transmission, the chance of an Ebola outbreak in the United States remains extremely low.

Read the President's full remarks from today's conference call here.

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