Five of the nation’s busiest airports, including the very busiest one in Atlanta, will begin testing individuals from certain West African nations for the Ebola virus upon touching down in the United States.
The U.S. process for now will be in effect in only five airports because that’s where 94 percent of all travelers from West Africa enter the United States.
According to officials, the testing will begin Saturday at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, which has nearly half of all such passengers from the affected countries in West Africa. The same process will roll out next week at Dulles International Airport outside the nation’s capital, Newark Liberty International Airport in northern New Jersey, O’Hare International Airport in Chicago and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
According to officials from the Department of Homeland Security and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this is how the process will work:
U.S. authorities identifying anyone who’d recently been in West Africa, whether they flew in directly or via a connecting flight.
Alejandro Mayorkas, deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, explained that “we have in our screening capabilities the ability to identify individuals traveling not only with respect to the last point of departure but the point of origin.”
“So … we can, in fact, identify the full journey of the individual arriving in the United States,” said Mayorkas.
Customs and Border Protection — the federal agency charged with safeguarding U.S. borders and airports — will take the lead, escorting pinpointed travelers to a what Mayorkas called a “quarantine station.” There, they will be asked questions about their health and possible exposure to Ebola, something that might tip off authorities that they might pose a risk.
These CBP officers, who won’t be wearing any masks, will also place a non-contact thermometer over travelers’ foreheads to take their temperature, since having a fever is one symptom of Ebola.
If there are any red flags, the person will be evaluated by a CDC public health officer on site. He or she will then be given the OK to go, taken to a hospital or be referred to a local health department for monitoring and support.
The only person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, Thomas Eric Duncan, died Wednesday in a Dallas hospital.
Duncan traveled from Liberia, via Belgium, before arriving in Texas on September 20. It’s not likely the stepped-up screening would have affected him, according to Frieden, because he didn’t appear to show signs of the virus until a few days after his arrival.