Shortly before Thomas Eric Duncan arrived in Dallas I flew out of Brussels on a flight that carried travelers from Africa connecting through that European capital on their way to the US. The flight was very popular with nationals from countries in Africa. My seatmate was on his way to visit family in Baltimore. I didn’t inquire as to his specific country of origin. At the time, Ebola wasn’t a threat to the US.
According to reports Duncan might have been coming to see his son graduate, but given that he was exposed to Ebola, and knew it, it’s hard to avoid the thought that he was fleeing Liberia in an attempt to obtain better medical care. It’s hard to blame someone for wanting to save their life.
As a travel writer I am frequently on planes, sitting next to strangers. So, as soon as Duncan was diagnosed with Ebola my husband turned to me, and we did the math. Had I been on a flight with someone about to become ill with that virus, had my vulnerability ended? Yes, it had.
Now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs & Border Protection (CBP) announced that they will begin “new layers of entry screening at five U.S. airports that receive over 94 percent of travelers from the Ebola-affected nations of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.” Source: CDC Press Release
The New York’s JFK International Airport will begin the new screening on Saturday while Washington-Dulles, Newark, Chicago-O’Hare, and Atlanta international airports will be begin next week.
What will this screening involve?
Travelers from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone will be escorted by 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.
Will this work?
To some extent the success will depend on people’s honesty. Fever reduction techniques, incorrect information provided on questionnaires can work against the effectiveness.
Some states are not waiting for trouble to find them. Connecticut’s governor declared a public health emergency. The precautionary order, signed by Gov. Dannel Malloy, allows public health officials to coordinate a targeted quarantine in case Ebola arrives in the state.