Stepped-up Ebola screening starts at 4 US airports

NEWARK, N.J. (WABC) -- Customs and health officials at airports in Washington, Chicago, Atlanta and Newark, New Jersey, began taking the temperatures of passengers from three West African countries as part of a stepped up Ebola screening program.

Federal health officials say the entry screenings started Thursday add another layer of protection to halt the spread of the Ebola virus that has killed thousands. Screeners use no-touch thermometers to try to find passengers with fevers.

The screenings started at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport on Saturday. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday that screenings would start Thursday at Washington Dulles, Chicago O'Hare, Newark's Liberty and Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta.

"The community doesn't feel it has been given enough information," Congressman Michael Grimm (R-Staten Island) said. "They don't feel comfortable, and the last thing you want is a panic."

Grimm toured the airport to inspect the health protocol, paying particular attention because of the more than 30,000 Liberians in his district.

"They are very concerned about the stigma attached to Ebola," he said. "People looking at them because they know they are from Africa and don't want to associate with them or be close to them in fear they may contract the disease even though they are not symptomatic."

Meanwhile, passengers on other domestic or international flights were not worried that regular air travel has no new health protocols, even for a retired physician who recently worked at a refugee camp near Nigeria.

"Several months before, they had the epidemic up there," Dr. Charles Clark said. "Ebola was gone then. It was contained. If it was contained in Nigeria, certainly we can contain it here in the US."

Grimm says he's asking the CDC to have a presence on Staten Island and the federal government to limit travel out of West Africa.

"We have to be smart," he said. "We have to be realistic. We have to be responsible. A severe restriction would make sense to keep us safe."

Customs officials say about 150 people travel daily from or through Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea to the United States. Nearly 95 percent of them land first at one of those five airports.
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