Health officials said experience with previous Ebola outbreaks showed the virus, which is spread through contact with bodily fluids, is highly contagious and can spread quickly among people who come in close contact with a person who has been infected.
“Timely public health follow-up requires health officials to have immediate access to accurate and complete contact information for travelers as they arrive in the United States,” said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky in a statement that accompanied the CDC order. “Inaccurate or incomplete contact information reduces the ability of public health authorities to swiftly protect the health of travelers and the public. Any delay in contacting exposed individuals can increase the likelihood of disease spread.”
As of Feb. 23, there were eight cases in Congo and nine cases in Guinea, the CDC order said.
Health officials are focusing on the aviation sector because it “has the potential to transport people, some of whom may have been exposed to a communicable disease, anywhere across the globe in less than 24 hours,” the order said.
In addition to collecting contact information, federal officials will require that flights from those countries land at one of six U.S. airports: New York’s John F. Kennedy International; Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International; Newark’s Liberty International; Chicago’s O’Hare International; Los Angeles International; and Washington Dulles International. The goal is to have the flights land at airports most equipped to handle flights that may require additional health measures.
Federal officials took similar measures during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, funneling flights from China to designated airports so passengers could undergo additional health screening.
Starting March 4, airlines will have to collect the following information from passengers who have been in Congo or Guinea within 21 days before their arrival in the United States: full name, address while in the United States, a primary phone number, secondary phone number or emergency contact number, and an email address.
According to the CDC’s order, only a small number of passengers — 27 from Congo and 33 from Guinea — arrive in the United States each day, with roughly 96 percent landing at the six designated airports.