U.S. to track everyone coming from Ebola nations

Mike Stobbe
Associated Press

Atlanta – — All travelers who come into the U.S. from three Ebola-stricken West African nations will now be monitored for three weeks, the latest step by federal officials to keep the disease from spreading into the country.

Starting Monday, anyone traveling from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone will have to report in with health officials daily and take their temperature twice a day.

The measure applies not only to visitors from those countries but also returning American aid workers, federal health employees and journalists. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the new step Wednesday.

CDC Director Tom Frieden said monitoring will provide an extra level of safety, on top of the temperature checks and screening that passengers undergo before they leave West Africa and again when they arrive in the United States.

“We have to keep our guard up,” Frieden told reporters on a conference call.

The Obama administration has resisted increasing pressure to turn away any visitors from the three countries at the center of the Ebola outbreak, especially after a Liberian visitor to Dallas came down with the disease days after he arrived and died. Instead, they started screening at 5 U.S. airports and on Tuesday said all travelers from West Africa would be funneled to those airports.

The monitoring program will start in six states — New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and Georgia — the destination for the bulk of the travelers from the outbreak region. It will later extend to other states.

Each passenger will be required to provide contact information for themselves as well as a friend. They will be instructed to check for a fever twice a day and report their temperature and any symptoms to health officials daily. Frieden said states will determine how to do that, whether in person, by phone or Skype.

If a traveler does not report in, state or local public health officials can track them down to ensure daily monitoring. How far they can go is up to those officials, CDC officials said.

They will also receive “CARE” kits — which stands for Check and Report Ebola. The kits include thermometer and instructions on what to do if symptoms occur. Also included is a card to present to health care providers if they seek care.

CDC already was telling its own employees and other health professionals working in the outbreak zone to monitor their temperature for 21 days upon return, so Wednesday’s announcement adds another step to their ongoing fever watch. It can take as long as three weeks days to develop Ebola symptoms.

Earlier this year, roughly 150 travelers per day were from the three countries. But it appears there are far fewer now — there are no direct flights and flights to the region have been curtailed. While a few of the people screened thus far have been taken to the hospital, none had Ebola.