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Schumer: Screen Passengers From Ebola-Stricken Areas

Schumer (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer wants federal officials to check passengers from Ebola-afflicted countries for fevers when entering the United States.  

The no. 3 Senate Democrat made that announcement in Manhattan at his Sunday news conference, as WCBS radio reported . Schumer said the screenings should feature "fever checks and health surveys in both airports and ports."  

He wants Customs and Border Protection agents trained to administer screenings, according to a news release.  

Schumer has also sent a letter to CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden outlining what he views as the need for a health database. The database would track people coming from areas in Africa where they have the potential for exposure to Ebola, so that if individuals present themselves at local emergency rooms with symptoms that may be consistent with the virus, they can be treated appropriately.  

"I urge CDC to work with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to create a database of passengers flying to and from West Africa, directly or indirectly, that can be shared with local hospitals nationwide. This database would allow hospitals to confirm whether patients exhibiting symptoms have been to one of the source countries and would ensure that physicians have the most truthful information of a patient’s travel itinerary," Schumer wrote. "It is important that this database only contain information relevant to a person health and travel and have an expiration date. The database should be shared and made available to local hospitals in the same way that similar information is shared and available to local law enforcement."  

While praising efforts to date, Schumer's letter also asks the agencies involved to move around existing money to make tracking the Ebola virus a priority.  

"I ask that, as this is the largest Ebola outbreak in history and in light of the increasing plausibility of Ebola coming to the U.S, that CDC work with other agencies such as USAID to redirect significant funding dedicated to contact tracing in the U.S. and in West Africa," Schumer wrote.  

Schumer's letter follows questions from several lawmakers to relevant departments and agencies, including a letter that Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, sent to the Federal Aviation Administration.  

"You can't wall yourself off, and we have to be really extra careful," Schumer said Sunday in Manhattan.  

Read the full text of Schumer's letter below:

Dear Dr. Frieden and Commissioner Kerlikowske, I write today to applaud the work and tireless effort you have given to keep Americans safe in light of the recent confirmed case of Ebola in the United States, as well as to offer additional steps that could be taken to further address the spread of Ebola in the U.S. and abroad. As you know, currently there are several suspected cases of Ebola in several states. For the safety and security of the American people, I respectfully request the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) utilize its resources and authority to increase the surveillance and containment of Ebola in the U.S. and abroad. More resources are needed to accurately detect and track this emerging virus and the appropriate agencies need to work in concert with the CDC to ensure that Americans remain safe and healthy. Since the emergence of Ebola in several West African countries, there have been three confirmed cases of U.S. citizens with Ebola as well as several other suspected cases of U.S. citizens with the virus in the US and abroad. I applaud the CDC’s immediate response to those cases and their continued preventive efforts in the West African countries surrounding those that have had Ebola outbreaks. While the CDC has put significant investment into sending supplies, training materials for detecting the illness and volunteers overseas, I ask that CDC work with the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in major U.S. ports of entry to increase the monitoring and identification of people arriving from the affected countries both by plane and by cargo ship. In addition, due to the importance of information gathering during any potential health epidemic, the CDC should work with CBP to initiate a “health declaration form,” which should include an in-depth questionnaire asking specifics about a person’s stay in West Africa. This should be implemented for travelers returning from Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, either directly, or through another secondary airport such as Munich, Brussels, London, Frankfort and Amsterdam. Due to the severity of Ebola symptoms, there is a great need for accurate and immediate information to be shared with hospitals across the U.S. The CDC has certified only 13 states whose hospitals and local health officials are equipped to handle cases of Ebola. Therefore, I urge CDC to work with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to create a database of passengers flying to and from West Africa, directly or indirectly, that can be shared with local hospitals nationwide. This database would allow hospitals to confirm whether patients exhibiting symptoms have been to one of the source countries and would ensure that physicians have the most truthful information of a patient’s travel itinerary. It is important that this database only contain information relevant to a person health and travel and have an expiration date. The database should be shared and made available to local hospitals in the same way that similar information is shared and available to local law enforcement. The CDC has been utilizing contact tracing to identify who has been in contact with a person infected with Ebola, which is a crucial factor in finding where a source of Ebola has arisen, additional people who may need to be screened and for containment of the disease. I ask that, as this is the largest Ebola outbreak in history and in light of the increasing plausibility of Ebola coming to the U.S, that CDC work with other agencies such as USAID to redirect significant funding dedicated to contact tracing in the U.S. and in West Africa. I believe a coordinated effort between the CDC, CBP and DHS as well as local health departments is essential to protect the public’s health. Thank you for your continued efforts to protect the health of all Americans, and for your consideration of this critical and urgent request. Please let me know if I can be of assistance.
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