The PJ Tatler

America's New Defense Against Ebola: Ask Travelers How They Feel

On Wednesday the Obama administration announced that it is enhancing passenger screening for Ebola at five airports around the United States. Those airports include JFK, Newark, Washington-Dulles, O’Hare and Atlanta-Hartsfield.

Those airports account for about 90% of the travel that comes from the three Ebola-stricken countries daily, which is about 150 people. That obviously leaves a hole the size of 10% of that traffic, which would be about 15 people every day. It also leaves airports like Houston’s busy Bush International without enhanced screening, despite the fact that it has a daily flight from Lagos, Nigeria. Nigeria is not one of the three African countries which have been hardest hit by Ebola, but there is an ongoing Ebola outbreak there, which is said to be somewhat contained now. In fact, Texas, where the first US Ebola victim died Wednesday, has two of the nation’s busiest airports but neither of them will get enhanced screening.

The enhanced screening itself may not actually amount to very much. According to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, the screening will begin on Saturday at JFK. It will consist of using laser-infrared thermometers to conduct non-contact fever readings. And it will consist of asking passengers how they feel.

Johnson told CNN, “The protocol is, first of all, our Customs personnel are very skilled at examining people, assessing people for a variety of reasons. And we’re asking passengers to fill out a declaration about what symptoms do you have? Are you feeling ill? Where have you been for the last 21 days and where will you be for the next few days?

“And, through a non-contact thermometer, we’re going to be taking the temperatures of every passenger that comes from one of the three affected countries.”

Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan lied on his exit form when he left Liberian on September 19 and brought Ebola to the United States. On the form he denied having been exposed to Ebola, when he knew that he had been on September 15. He was asymptomatic at a the time of his travel. He did not develop symptoms until several days after arriving in Dallas. The newly enhanced screening at Dulles International, where he entered the United States, would not have caught him.