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CDC To Step Up Monitoring Of Travelers From Ebola-Affected Regions


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish. Federal health officials announced a major effort today to protect Americans from Ebola. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to start actively monitoring anyone coming into the U.S. from the three West African countries facing the Ebola epidemic. That's Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. NPR's Rob Stein joins us now to explain the new measures. And, Rob, begin with what the CDC actually means by active monitoring.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: So, Audie, this is the most aggressive in a series of measures that the CDC's announced since the first case of Ebola was diagnosed in Dallas and two nurses got infected. As you might remember, the CDC has just started funneling all travelers from those countries through five airports where they can be screened for Ebola symptoms. But unless somebody had a fever or some other red flag, they were just being asked to watch out for symptoms themselves and sent on their way.

Under the new program, health officials will pull aside everyone who steps off a plane from those countries to make very detailed arrangements to monitor them directly, every day, for 21 days, and possibly restrict their movements until it's clear they're out of the woods.

CORNISH: Now, 21 days, I mean, that's roughly three weeks of monitoring. What will that entail?

STEIN: So each traveler will be instructed that they must take their temperature twice a day and watch for any other symptoms. And - and now this is the important part - check in with their state or local health departments once a day to report on how they're doing. And before they can leave, they'll be required to give authorities addresses, E-mails, telephone numbers, for not only themselves but at least one friend or family member in case they don't comply and authorities need to track them down.

CORNISH: And when is this all going to start?

STEIN: The plan is to start doing this on Monday in six states - that's New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and Georgia. Those are the states where about 70 percent of travelers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea end up. But eventually, the CDC wants every state to start doing this. And state and local health departments will have to develop plans for finding anyone who doesn't check in and possibly detain them if necessary.

They'll also have to figure out what to do with anyone who's at higher risk. You know, health care workers who know they might've been exposed, would automatically be quarantined for that entire 21-day period. But there might be people who've fallen through more gray areas where officials will have to decide, you know, is it OK for them to get on a bus or a plane or even go out in public to a movie or mall?

CORNISH: Rob, you're talking about people reporting information on themselves and addresses of people they know and that sort of thing. I mean, how realistic is it?

STEIN: You know, this is really an unprecedented move. Health officials have tracked and quarantined sick people in the past, but there's never been anything done on this kind of scale before. The CDC estimates that about 150 people arrive in the United States every day from one of those three countries. So you can see how the numbers are going to start to add up very quickly. And so one of the big questions is whether state and local health departments have the resources to take on a job that's this big. It's going to require a lot of manpower to keep track of these people, track them down and make sure they call every day and if they don't, start to look for them. That's a lot of work, and it's going to take a lot of people and a lot of personnel.

CORNISH: Rob, thanks so much.

STEIN: Sure, nice to be here.

CORNISH: NPR's Rob Stein talking about plans for the CDC to monitor anyone entering the U.S. from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea for Ebola. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Stein is a correspondent and senior editor on NPR's science desk.