WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — The Homeland Security Department is requiring that anyone coming to the United States from one of three West African countries at the center of the Ebola outbreak must enter the country through one of five airports screening passengers for the deadly disease.
Customs and Border Protection officers earlier this month started screening passengers from West Africa who arrived at John F. Kennedy, Newark Liberty, Washington’s Dulles, Chicago’s O’Hare and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta airports.
There are no direct flights from West Africa to the United States and about 94 percent of the estimated 150 daily passengers from the region pass through those five airports.
The new requirement means that people traveling from Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea, who were not originally passing through one of those five airports, will have to rebook their flights.
The new screening procedures at those airports include agents taking the temperatures of travelers using no-touch thermometers. Agents are also asking questions about the passengers’ travel and potential contact with anyone who may have been infected with Ebola. If anyone shows signs of Ebola, they are evaluated by a quarantine officer.
“Absolutely there’s a fear of that it’s a transmittable disease even though it’s hard to transmit, it can still happen if controls aren’t in place,” Philadelphia resident Peter Tonjes told CBS 2’s Ilana Gold while traveling through Newark Airport.
“You can understand wanting to have more stringent restrictions,” traveler Robert Woods of South Wales said.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said DHS now has “measures to identify and screen anyone at all land, sea and air ports of entry into the United States who we have reason to believe has been present in Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea in the preceding 21 days.”
A Port Authority spokeswoman told WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond that screening areas will be increased if necessary.
Concerns about travelers infected with Ebola have risen since a Liberian man traveled from the region to Dallas last month. Thomas Eric Duncan became the first person in the United States diagnosed with Ebola, a few days after arriving from West Africa. He died on Oct. 8.
Since then, two nurses who helped care for him have also been diagnosed with Ebola.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., described the move as an “added layer of protection against Ebola entering our country.”
“The Department of Homeland Security’s policy to funnel all passengers arriving from Ebola hotspots to one of these five equipped airports is a good and effective step towards tightening the net and further protecting our citizens,” he said in a statement.
But New York gubernatorial hopeful Rob Astorino, who has repeatedly called for a travel ban from the three West African countries, blasted Homeland Security’s order Tuesday.
“The Department of Homeland Security has rightly deemed air travel from Ebola-stricken nations too dangerous to allow, yet, inexplicably, it is permitting it to continue into JFK and Newark airports,” the Republican said in a statement. “The CDC specifically predicted last week that Ebola cases will reach New York City via air travelers. It is sheer and utter madness to protect some areas of this country at the expense of others. I reiterate my call on Governor Cuomo to order the New York State Health Commissioner to shut airline gates to flights containing passengers from Ebola-ridden countries.”
Rep. Peter King agreed.
“I think Jeh Johnson is trying to make the best of a terrible situation,” the Long Island Republican told WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond. “The best thing the governor should do is to stop all air traffic from West Africa, certainly anyone who is from West Africa … should have their visas suspended.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo had earlier said a travel ban in the United States would not be effective because people would fly through other countries first. But this week he changed his tone, saying federal officials should “strongly consider” halting travel from the Ebola-affected nations.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the policy was an example of Obama’s willingness to consider additional restrictions on travelers from West Africa.
“The president stands ready to consider additional travel restrictions as necessary,” Earnest said Tuesday. He added that Obama believes the new restrictions “will further protect the American people.”
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