- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Department of Homeland Security said Thursday it will no longer screen travelers for Ebola, now that West Africa is considered to be free of the virus.

Over the past 16 months, the agency’s Customers and Border Protection officers screened more than 42,000 travelers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea — the hot zone where more than 11,000 people died during the outbreak that lasted from December 2013 to late 2015.

“The CDC has now declared West Africa Ebola free, and today marks the final day of CBP’s enhanced screening of travelers from West Africa,” DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said.

The nation’s disease-fighters are now watching the Zika virus, a mosquito-borne disease that has been linked to an uptick in serious birth defects in Latin America.

Officials say enhanced screening at airports, even if it were warranted, wouldn’t work for Zika, since most people show little, if any, symptoms of infection. Still, DHS said it routinely monitors points of entry for signs of any serious illness.

“While we recognize that we must treat and target every disease individually, we will continue to make use of the capabilities developed and lessons learned from the Ebola outbreak to protect the public health of the American people,” Mr. Johnson said.

U.S.-based Ebola panic exploded into view in late 2014, after a Liberian man traveled to Dallas and was released from an area hospital despite his symptoms and travel history, because of crossed signals among hospital personnel. He was readmitted shortly after, but died from the Ebola infected he had contracted back home.

The incident caused a bitter back and forth between Republicans in Congress, who called for an outright travel ban on passengers from the hot zone, and the Obama administration, which said funneling the passengers to one of five major airports — New Jersey’s Newark Liberty, New York’s John F. Kennedy, Virginia’s Dulles, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson and Chicago’s O’Hare — would be sufficient.

The program appeared to work, as Ebola did not spread within the U.S. during the epidemic, though tempers flared when a Maine nurse returning from West Africa was quarantined because she showed signs of fever in at the Newark airport.

Her treatment led to testy exchanges with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and then with Maine Gov. Paul LePage, when she returned home.

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