Travelers from African countries hit by Ebola restricted to five U.S. airports

Posted at 1:07 PM, Oct 21, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-21 13:07:53-04

WASHINGTON (CNN) — All travelers flying into the United States from the West African countries most impacted by the Ebola virus can only enter the U.S. through five airports, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced Tuesday.

Starting Wednesday, passengers traveling from Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea can only gain entry through the international airports in New York, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Chicago and Newark, New Jersey — which account for 94% of all incoming travelers from those countries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Langley Airmen back home after supporting humanitarian relief operations in Ebola-stricken African nations

While all U.S. entry points currently screen passengers for potential exposure to the Ebola virus, these five airports have taken additional steps to screen for the disease, such as taking passengers’ temperature and other additional protocols, Johnson said.

The announcement comes amid increasingly vocal calls for President Barack Obama to ban all travel from those three countries into the United States despite top health officials advising against a travel ban.

The ban will apply to any passengers whose flights originated in those three countries since there are no direct flights from there to the U.S.

“We are working closely with the airlines to implement these restrictions with minimal travel disruption,” Johnson said in a statement.

Johnson also said that he spoke with Customs and Border Protection officials and said he was “impressed by their professionalism, and their training and preparation” for the additional screening measures.

The five airports stepped up their screening procedures over the last week and a half for passengers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Those travelers are assessed by medical staff and questioned about potential Ebola exposure.

The measures are similar to screenings all airline passengers face at airports in West Africa.

Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Republican who plans to introduce legislation calling for a travel ban, said in a statement he is “glad that the Obama administration is showing more concern” over the spread of Ebola.

“But the Administration must do more to protect Americans,” Goodlatte said, noting that screening measure would not have detected that Thomas Eric Duncan, the first to die of the disease on U.S. soil, was infected with Ebola.

A White House official said Johnson’s announcement comes after Obama directed his National Security staff to continually review procedures to fight off an outbreak of the disease.

Testing shows Spanish nurse’s aide free of Ebola, Madrid hospital says

The Spanish nurse’s aide who contracted Ebola after treating virus-stricken patients in Madrid is now free of the virus, her doctors announced Tuesday after another test on her.

Teresa Romero Ramos is clear of Ebola, physicians at Carlos III hospital said.

An initial test showed there was none of the virus in her blood, doctors said Sunday. More tests were administered to be sure she was virus-free.

While Spain welcomes the good news about Ebola, the United States is doing more to help prevent the spread of the virus. The Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday that all arriving passengers from West African countries that Ebola has hit hardest — Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea — must land in one of the five U.S. airports that have enhanced Ebola screening.

Those airports are New York’s John F. Kennedy International; D.C.’s Washington Dulles; New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International; Chicago’s O’Hare International; and Hartsfield-Jackson International in Atlanta.

On its website, the Department of Homeland Security shows how many people have been screened and then taken to health care facilities for further checks. JFK appears to be outpacing the other airports in screenings.

Also Tuesday, the World Health Organization announced that testing was underway at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland for an Ebola vaccine; and a trial for a second vaccine, initially developed in Canada, has started at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring.

The goal is to launch vaccine trials in West Africa by January, said Dr. Marie Paule Kieny, the WHO’s assistant director general for health systems and innovation.

The initial vaccine tests are being given to volunteers in countries such as Mali, the United States and England. It is impossible to get Ebola from the vaccines, Kieny said, because they do not contain enough of the virus’s genetic material. But “there is no vaccine that has no side effects at all,” she added.

It’s not clear when vaccines could be distributed to the masses. That won’t be determined until after test results come in. When the testing reaches West Africa, candidates could include relatives of infected Ebola patients, Kieny said.

Debate over experimental drugs

The WHO said it is also visiting sites in the three countries most devastated by Ebola — Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia — to see which treatment centers could participate in the testing of experimental Ebola drugs.

But there is debate among medical ethicists about the drug trials — namely, whether to use placebos in testing.

While some say placebos are necessary to gauge the effectiveness of drugs, others say it’s unethical to withhold treatment for a disease with a mortality rate of about 50%.

CDC gives new guidelines

The news from the WHO comes a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued updated Ebola guidelines, focusing on better protecting health care workers.

Dr. Tom Frieden, the director of the CDC, stressed the importance of more training and supervision, and he said no skin should be exposed when workers are wearing personal protective equipment, or PPE.

“We’re increasing the margin of safety with a real consensus guideline that has three key changes. One, training, practicing — demonstrated hands-on experience so that the health care workers are comfortable donning and doffing PPE. Two, no skin exposure. Three, observation of every single step, putting on and taking off the PPE,” Frieden said.