Efforts to screen travelers arriving in the United States for COVID-19 are more of a problem than they are worth, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC, with the help of the Department of Homeland Security, checks passengers arriving at airports from some severely affected countries between January and September. Officials screened more than 766,000 passengers, but in the end only 35 passengers were tested for coronavirus and only nine tested positive.
This is just one positive case of 85,000 passengers screened. And employees lacked contact information for a “significant portion” of checked passengers.
The new report, published in the CDC̵
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Screenings include monitoring for signs of disease, non-contact temperature testing, and a questionnaire on symptoms and exposure. Passengers who were ill or found to be exposed to the virus were then referred to a medical professional for further evaluation.
Even when the screenings were held at the airport, there were questions about their value. In the summer, TSA chief David Pekoske said temperature checks “did not guarantee” that passengers had or did not have COVID-19, Fox News reported earlier.
And while the screenings were in place, they did not stop the spread of the virus. The coronavirus has killed more than 250,000 Americans and infected another 11 million, according to Johns Hopkins University. The average number of new daily cases in the United States recently reached a record.
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The CDC ended screenings in September, instead deciding to focus on “more effective” virus mitigation efforts that focus on individual passengers, the agency said at the time.
“By refocusing risk mitigation efforts on individual passengers during air travel, [U.S. government] it can most effectively protect the health of the American public, “officials said in a statement.
The new report suggests that collecting contact information for passengers before arrival will help track contacts in a timely manner. Testing and quarantine can also reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading between geographical areas.
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The air travel industry has focused on more passenger testing, among other precautions such as the requirement for masks. Airlines flying to Hawaii began offering rapid tests for COVID-19 for passengers last month. United Airlines has just added free coronavirus testing on flights between Newark, New Jersey and London. Los Angeles International Airport opened 24-hour testing venues this week.
Once the passengers are on board, the flight is relatively safe due to the requirements of the aircraft mask and the air filtration system of the aircraft. A recent study by the Ministry of Defense found that exposure to COVID-19 was “extremely unlikely” in flight.
However, there are travel risks and the pandemic has cooled travel in the United States. As of last week, the volume of passengers on American airlines was only 63% of what it was a year ago, according to Airlines for America, an industrial group.