- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Homeland Security Department announced Tuesday that it will force travelers from West African nations dealing with the Ebola epidemic to enter the U.S. through five designated airports where federal officials are set up to screen them for the disease.

The new restrictions, which Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said took effect Monday, will require the cooperation of airlines, who are to funnel travelers from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone to those airports where authorities are already set up to take passengers’ temperatures and ask about their travel histories.

But the decision, while winning praise as a first step, did little to quell the clamor from many in Congress for a full travel ban from the region.

“We are continually evaluating whether additional restrictions or added screening and precautionary measures are necessary to protect the American people and will act accordingly,” Mr. Johnson said in a statement announcing the move.

Officials fighting to contain the U.S. outbreak got a bit of good news when the National Institutes of Health announced late Tuesday that Nina Pham, 26, one of two Dallas nurses who contracted the virus while treating the first U.S. case, was upgraded from “fair” to “good” while undergoing treatment in Bethesda. No other details of her condition were released.

Most of the 150 travelers a day from the affected countries already arrive at the five airports: New York’s John F. Kennedy, Virginia’s Washington Dulles International, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Chicago’s O’Hare and New Jersey’s Newark International. Only about 10 are estimated to come through other U.S. airports.

Through Monday, screeners at these airports had already checked out 562 passengers. Only four — all from Dulles — had to be taken to a medical facility for additional screening, and none have tested positive for the virus, according to Homeland Security data.

Tuesday’s move is one of several steps to address the Ebola threat after the belated treatment and death of Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who carried the disease from West Africa and infected Ms. Pham and fellow nurse Amber Joy Vinson, exposing gaps in America’s plan for dealing with the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released updated guidelines late Monday that said health workers treating patients suspected of having Ebola should wear double gloves, fluid-resistant gowns, full-face shields and surgical hoods to ensure no skin is exposed at all. The guidelines also call for a monitor to supervise the clothing to make sure all skin is covered.

At an Ebola summit in New York City, medical staffers demonstrated the safety routine on Tuesday. The session, hosted by the Greater New York Hospital Association and Service Employees International Union, a top labor union, featured speeches by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“In this country, with every passing day, we’re getting better and better at dealing with this challenge,” Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, said. “This city, as you heard before, has been preparing and drilling for weeks and weeks. We’re getting better at it, and we know that we’re ready.”

Meanwhile, Homeland Security’s new travel rules won praise as a step to close a loophole that would have allowed dozens of travelers a month to circumvent full screening by arriving at secondary airports.

“We believe this announcement will achieve the aim of keeping sick people out of the U.S., without abandoning whole countries in their efforts to fight Ebola or driving travelers from those countries ‘underground’ in attempts to reach the U.S.,” U.S. Travel Association CEO Roger Dow said.

The Ebola outbreak in the U.S. occurred after Duncan made it through two Ebola screening checkpoints at the airport in Liberia. He did not have a fever or show symptoms of Ebola when departed, and he told screeners he had not had contact with any infected persons — a claim that turned out to be untrue.

Some lawmakers still said a full travel ban is the only way to stop that kind of breach.

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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