CDC: Travelers from Ebola-impacted nations will be monitored for 21 days

The CDC and the Obama administration has finally decided to put in place some safeguards on travelers from western Africa, although they still fall short of the travel ban backed by most Americans. On Monday, Allahpundit noted that the White House has now directed the FAA and airlines to route all travelers from Ebola-impacted nations to five airports, which isn’t all that much of a change from what usually takes place anyway. The CDC followed suit today by ordering 21-day monitoring for all of those travelers, whether they pass a temperature screen or not:

The new measures, to be rolled out in six states starting Monday, Oct. 27, are aimed at catching anyone who might enter the country before they start showing symptoms. “Someone infected with Ebola may not show symptoms for up to 21 days,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Thomas Frieden told reporters. “These new measures I am announcing today will give additional new safety.”

All 50 states are expected to implement the system eventually, and it’ll be up to the states to enforce it, Frieden said. The states with the most travelers from the region — New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and Georgia –will lead the way.

Travelers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea will be asked for email addresses, phone numbers and street addresses, as well as similar contacts for a friend or relative to make sure no one slips through the cracks, Frieden said. “We are recommending that temperatures are taken twice a day and reported once a day,” Frieden said.

This common-sense but incremental move may still have some people wondering why it took the CDC so long to implement it. The first case of Ebola brought into the country by a traveler from western Africa became acute more than a month ago. Since then, thanks to the initial errors at the Dallas hospital that allowed Thomas Duncan to go home and the inability of the CDC to impose a competent containment scheme, hundreds of other Americans have had to be monitored for potential transmission, and two schools closed briefly. During that time, the CDC has insisted that the temperature screen alone would be sufficient, when it (a) didn’t catch the first case anyway and (b) the incubation of the virus made it obvious that it wouldn’t prevent other such transmissions.

So now we have the Obama administration retreating, at least a little bit, but not as far as a travel ban. The problem with this approach is that it’s still voluntary. One assumes the CDC will follow the cases to ensure that the monitoring takes place, but they don’t appear to want to order anyone into quarantine — and how many subjects will they have to audit? If it’s just a few dozen it might work, but the more travelers who come in from these countries, the more stretched those resources will get. And who’s to say that even regular calls to those being monitored will result in truthful reporting anyway? Until they get sick, there doesn’t appear to be much incentive for honesty about abiding by the testing regime here, or for self-imposed isolation either.

The head of the hospital in Texas tells CNN that their regime didn’t work very well either. As it turns out, not only did Thomas Duncan tell the emergency room nurse that he’d traveled to Africa, she wrote it in his records — but never asked which country, and the doctor apparently assumed that he’d had no contact with sick people … or he lied about it:

The hospital system that owns Texas Health Presbyterian said it “fell short” several times in treating Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan, starting by not asking the right questions in the ER. When the Liberian native came in with a fever, the nurse wrote down he “came from Africa” but didn’t specify which nation. A physician wrote that Duncan was a “local resident,” with “no contact with sick people. No symptoms of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea.”

Duncan had contact with a pregnant woman who died of Ebola before coming to the US. Either he didn’t bother to mention it and no one asked the question, or the doctor did ask and Duncan lied about it. Either way, it shows the limits of self-reporting until it becomes too late for effective containment. The CDC is moving in the right direction but has not reached the complete destination.