In just three weeks, public health officials will have approximately 3,150 people in the United States under close watch for signs of Ebola under a new screening policy put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday. Both state and local officials will maintain daily contact with these individuals, and each person will be given a kit including a thermometer and information on Ebola, among other things. Sounds like a bureaucratic nightmare? Not so, health officials said.
“We’ve had many days of people entering from these countries and only one case of Ebola so far, so the yield will be low. But that in itself is not a reason not to do it,” said Dr. Mark Lurie, an assistant professor of epidemiology and medicine at Brown University. Under the new policy, officials are monitoring all travelers arriving in the U.S. from Ebola-stricken countries for 21 days from their departure date. 150 people per day arrive in the U.S. from Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea, the West African nations most affected by the outbreak, according to the CDC.
Each traveler is asked to check in with a state or local health official on a daily basis to keep track of any emerging signs of the disease until their 21-day incubation period is up, according to the CDC guidelines. Assuming the number of people entering the U.S. from the three West African countries remains the same, the number of travelers being monitored will essentially reach a peak at roughly 3,150 and then level off as people reach the 21-day mark. “I do believe we have or could muster the resources to make this happen. There aren’t that many people entering from these countries,” Lurie said.
Before the policy change, only passengers arriving from West Africa who showed symptoms, including fever, were taken aside upon their arrival for additional questioning and possible quarantine. Although the tightened travel restrictions are a noted shift in U.S. President Barack Obama’s position compared with a few weeks ago, many are still calling for the White House to ban all U.S. flights to and from Ebola-stricken nations. But the president said a complete travel ban is too extreme.
“What we’re seeing now is not an ‘outbreak’ or an ‘epidemic’ of Ebola in America. We’re a nation of more than 300 million people. To date, we’ve seen three cases of Ebola diagnosed here," Obama said in his weekly address Saturday. "Now, even one infection is too many. At the same time, we have to keep this in perspective.”
As panic in the U.S. has burgeoned, Obama appointed Ron Klain last week as his administration’s go-to coordinator for all things Ebola. With the 2014 midterm elections weeks away, some speculate whether appointing Klain and imposing stricter travel restrictions are simply political moves to help earn votes in the critical upcoming U.S. Senate race. Republicans have seized the Ebola issue on the campaign trail, seeing it as an opportunity to steal Democratic seats in the Senate.
North Carolina’s House Speaker and Republican Senate hopeful Thom Tillis is among those calling for a travel ban. “Keeping the American people safe must be our nation’s top priority, and the White House should immediately ban travel from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea to contain the spread of Ebola,” Tillis said in early October.