Under new measures put in place by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal to combat Ebola, African travelers passing through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport could find themselves quickly whisked away to a local hospital if they show signs of illness upon arrival.
And health workers who have had direct contact with someone infected by the virus will be automatically isolated, with or without displaying symptoms.
After consulting with his Ebola response team, Mr. Deal decided methods put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention two weeks ago at five U.S. airports including Atlanta’s weren’t strong enough.
The CDC measures called for Customs and Border Protection to take all passengers from affected countries aside to answer a questionnaire and have their temperatures checked. Those showing symptoms would have their temperatures read again and potentially would be referred to a hospital. As of Oct. 20, 27 people had been screened under the new measures in Atlanta. None had elevated temperatures or required referral to a hospital, according to a report by the Department of Homeland Security.
Under Mr. Deal’s new policies, though, those showing systems upon arrival “will be isolated immediately and transferred to a designated hospital for evaluation,” and even those not showing symptoms determined to have had direct exposure to an Ebola patient will be deemed “high-risk” and similarly quarantined.
It’s unclear how long the state has the authority to detain these foreign travelers and health workers. The CDC has told Global Atlanta that it takes about four hours to test for Ebola, but it took until Monday for the state of New Jersey to release a health care worker who had tested negative for the virus after arriving home from West Africa on Saturday. New Jersey and New York have both instituted quarantines for health workers with exposure to Ebola. Other states are putting their own measures in place.
Passengers arriving in Georgia without showing symptoms will be grouped into one of three categories (from the governor’s office):
–Category 1, high risk – Travelers with known direct exposure to an Ebola patient. Travelers in this category will be subject to quarantine at a designated facility.
–Category 2, low risk – Travelers from affected area with no known exposure to an Ebola patient. Travelers in this category will sign a monitoring agreement with the Georgia Department of Public Health. This agreement requires travelers to conduct temperature and symptom self-checks twice per day and report results to Public Health once per day (electronic, email or phone contact acceptable). Travelers who fail to report during the 21-day incubation period will be contacted by Public Health and issued a mandatory quarantine order if necessary.
–Category 3 – Medical personnel actively involved in treating Ebola patients returning to the United States. Individuals in this category will be issued a 21-day active monitoring order and will be visually monitored (video communications or home visit) by Public Health twice per day. Public Health will assess for the development of symptoms and adjust restrictions as necessary. Noncompliance will result in quarantine at a state-designated facility.
It’s unclear how these new parameters could affect travel from the region, or even which are considered “affected countries” according to the state. CBP seems to be only tracking those who arrive in Atlanta from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, those still struggling with outbreaks. Atlanta has no nonstop flights from these countries but does have one to Nigeria, which had a brief outbreak but quickly reined it in. The country has been removed from the CDC’s travel warning list.
Speaking with Global Atlanta last week, Angela Gittens, director general of Airports Council International, spoke out against so-called “entry screening” measures and said it’s vital that the authorities don’t make airports into holding cells.
“Airports are places where things have to flow through. You can’t stop things in an airport, because that defeats the entire purpose of an airport,” she said, which also threatens the ability to effectively deal with outbreaks in their source regions.
See this AJC article on the new measures for reactions from the CDC, Mr. Deal and his Democratic challenger Jason Carter, who has criticized the timing of Mr. Deal’s announcement, which comes eight days before the election.