President Barack Obama announced on Monday that the United States will soon implement a new set of protocols to screen suspected Ebola patients so they can’t get off airplanes and enter American airports.
The same Customs and Border Patrol Agents who sift through cargo and luggage for contraband will be the first line of defense, inspecting passengers who arrive from Ebola-ravaged countries and identifying some for further screening.
Obama highlighted his government’s ‘all-hands-on-deck approach’ to stopping a pandemic, but insisted that ‘the chances of an outbreak, of an epidemic here are extraordinarily low.’
The U.S. is ‘going to be working on protocols to do additional passenger screening both at the source and here in the United States,’ Obama said in his first Ebola-related public comments, after hearing from national security and homeland security aides and government public health experts.
Citing the case of Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian national who flew last month through Washington D.C.’s Dulles International Airport and eventually landed in Dallas, Texas, the president said the case shows that ‘we don’t have a lot of margin for error. The procedures and protocols that are put in place must be followed.’
‘The good news is that it’s not an airborne disease,’ he emphasized.
‘But it requires us to follow those [new] protocols strictly. … We know what needs to be done and we have the medical infrastructure to do it,’ Obama told reporters.
‘I consider this a top national security priority. This is not just a matter of charity,’ Obama said.
NEW SCREENING MEASURES
A fact sheet from the White House on Monday spelled out the new plan to use Customs and Border Patrol agents as a first line of defense against Ebola arriving at U.S. airports:
- ‘CBP personnel review all travelers entering the United States for general overt signs of illnesses (visual observation, questioning, and notification of CDC as appropriate) at all U.S. ports of entry, including all federal inspection services areas at U.S. airports that service international flights.
- ‘When a traveler is identified with a possible communicable disease or identified from information that is received from the CDC, CBP personnel will take the appropriate safety measures by referring the traveler to a secondary, isolating the traveler from other travelers, and referring to CDC or public officials for a medical assessment. CBP personnel may don personal protective equipment (PPE), to include gloves and surgical masks, which are readily available for use in the course of their duties.
- ‘CBP personnel receive training in illness recognition, but if they identify an individual believed to be infected, CBP will contact CDC along with local public health authorities to help with further medical evaluation.
- ‘CBP is handing out fact sheets to travelers arriving in the U.S. from Ebola- affected countries, which detail information on Ebola, health signs to look for, and information for their doctor should they need to seek medical attention in the future.
- ‘Secretary Johnson has also directed Transportation Security Administration to issue an Information Circular to air carriers reinforcing the CDC’s message on Ebola and providing guidance on identifying potential passengers with Ebola. DHS is closely monitoring the situation and Secretary Johnson will consider additional actions as appropriate.’
The Obama administration has refused to implement a travel ban on passengers coming to America from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, the three west African nations hardest-bit by the deadly viral outbreak that kills quickly and at a rate of about 50 per cent.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest also told reporters on Monday that the U.S. needs commercial air traffic to continue in order to have aircraft available to send supplies and relief personnel into the danger zone.
Leaders at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health have insisted that screening protocols alone are sufficient to protect the American public.
Some of those strategies are being implemented on the ground in Africa. CDC chief Dr. Thoams Frieden said over the weekend that 77 people suspected of harboring the infection had already been prevented from flying to the United States.
‘All of these things make me confident that here in the United States at least, the chance of an outbreak, of an epidemic here, are extraordinarily low,’ Obama said.
At the same time, he urged Americans to ‘keep in mind that as we speak, there are children on the streets dying of this disease – thousands of them.’
Obama also chastized other countries, without naming any in particular, for failing to ‘step up as aggressively as they need to.’
‘Countries that think that they can sit on the sidelines and just let the United States do it … will result in a less effective response, a less speedy response, and that means that people die,’ he said.
‘We’ve got some small countries that are punching above their weight on this, but we’ve got some large countries that aren’t doing enough. And we want to make sure that they understand that this is not a disease that’s going to discriminate, and this is something that all of us have to be involved in.’
Tennessee Republican Senator Lamar Alexander said after Obama’s announcement that he welcomed the new plan.
‘I said last week that our country should screen at all U.S. airports all passengers arriving from countries with the Ebola epidemic,’ Alexander said in a statement, ‘and I am glad the president will now increase screening.’
In affected African nations, airline passengers already have their temperatures taken to check for fever – an early sign of Ebola infection – and are questioned about their contact with people infected with the virus.
But Duncan, who held the feet of a pregnant woman who later died of the disease, was able to fly from Monrovia, Liberia, to Dallas, Texas, a day later after he allegedly lied about his contact with Ebola patients.
Health experts have warned that even contagious travelers who are displaying symptoms could make it past the West African screening process simply by taking ibuprofen to lower their fevers.
Pressure increased on the CDC to scan travelers entering the country after several recent scares. On Saturday, a Liberian was pulled off a plane at Newark Liberty International Airport by authorities in full hazmat gear after he vomited on board. That passenger later tested negative for Ebola.
Other Ebola scares in recent weeks have involved a west African child who fell ill with the flu after arriving in Miami and another patient from that region who was hospitalized in New York after arriving at JFK International Airport.
There are few direct flights between West Africa and the United States. Most travelers from the region arrive via Brussels, where Brussels Airlines still operates direct to all three disease-stricken countries.
Passengers then fly from Brussels to Chicago, New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Atlanta or Miami.
Measures like taking the temperature of every traveler entering the country from Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea would not have stopped Duncan from entering the U.S. because he was not showing symptoms of Ebola at the time.
Ebola has an incubation period of up to 21 days, during which time patients will show no symptoms of infection and are not contagious. Duncan did not develop symptoms until several days after his arrival in the U.S.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Sunday that ‘discussion is underway right now’ and ‘all options are being looked at’ for new screening measures.
The question, Fauci told CNN, is whether ‘the extra level of screening is going to be worth the resources you need to put into it.’
Frieden, said officials were looking at all options ‘to see what we can do to increase safety of all Americans.’
The current Ebola outbreak has infected more than 7,400 people and killed more than 3,400. Nearly all of the cases have been in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – three of the poorest nations in the world. Nigeria had a small outbreak, but officials were able to quickly contain it.
Previewing Monday’s White House, Frieden said, ‘We’re going to be covering many aspects and figure out what we can do’ to protect Americans and stop the outbreaks.
‘Medications are going to be hard to find,’ he said, but Frieden added that he was encouraged by ongoing vaccine trials.
‘We have to understand that this is going to be a long road and it isn’t going to be easy,’ he said. At the same time, Frieden said he doesn’t believe the disease is going to spread widely in the United States.
‘We can stop it in its tracks here, which we are doing.’
At the same time as Frieden was making his remarks on Sunday, police in Dallas combed the streets in search of a homeless man who rode in the same ambulance that transported Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan to the hospital.
The panhandler was the very next person taken to the hospital in the ambulance from Dallas Fire-Rescue station 37 and officials fear he may have come in contact with some of Duncan’s bodily fluids on September 28.
The CDC is currently monitoring 48 people in Dallas who may have come into contact with Duncan while he was contagious with the deadly disease.
By Sunday afternoon, police found the homeless man and took him to Parkland Hospital for observation.
It is just the latest mistake by authorities in Texas, who have attracted heavy criticism for their handling of the Ebola outbreak.
Police are working to obtain a court order to hold the homeless man at the hospital, against his will if necessary. He is not sick and not showing any symptoms of the disease.
The man was rated as ‘low risk’ for infection by authorities, but officials were still desperate to monitor him.
On Saturday, Texas Presbyterian Hospital announced that Duncan’s health had declined and that he is now in critical condition and ‘fighting for his life’ against the disease.
Initial reports were that Duncan is not receiving any experimental drugs to fight the Ebola because officials fear his body could not handle the medication in his current unstable condition. Instead, doctors are giving him ‘supportive care.’
Supplies of ZMapp, the miracle drug that cured two American Ebola patients and a British nurse, have run out. Drug makers are working to produce more, but the process takes months.
Despite the calm and collected image that the CDC and Texas Department of State Health Services today, doctors and public health officials have repeatedly fumbled when confronted with the virus.
When Duncan first went to the hospital with a high fever on September 25, he was given antibiotics and sent home – despite revealing that he had recently been in Ebola-stricken Liberia. He was not diagnosed with the disease until his girlfriend called an ambulance on September 28.
The ambulance transported at least one other person before being taken out of service.
Then, after the the case of Ebola was confirmed, family members and friends who had contact with Duncan said they were left to go about their daily routines without contact from the CDC or local health officials.
Four days after the Ebola diagnosis, Duncan’s girlfriend revealed that his sweat-stained sheets were still on his bed and that no one from the CDC or health department had been by to collect his belongings.
It was not until Friday that a cleaning crew finally arrived to remove the infectious items and clean the apartment.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2781703/Americans-set-face-increased-screening-airports-amid-Ebola-crisis-CDC-FINALLY-considers-giving-passenger-arriving-Liberia-medical-check-arrival.html#ixzz3FSVhgaxN
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