NEW YORK — The United States ratcheted up its safeguards against Ebola on Tuesday, requiring travelers from three countries at the center of an epidemic in West Africa to fly into one of five major airports conducting enhanced screening for the virus.
The restrictions on passengers whose trips originated in Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea were announced by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and were set to go into effect on Wednesday. The precautions stop well short of the travel ban sought by some U.S. lawmakers to prevent further Ebola cases in the United States.
Affected travelers will have their temperatures checked for signs of a fever that may indicate Ebola infection, among other protocols, at New York’s John F. Kennedy, New Jersey’s Newark, Washington Dulles, Atlanta, and Chicago’s O’Hare international airports, officials said.
“We are working closely with the airlines to implement these restrictions with minimal travel disruption,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement. “If not already handled by the airlines, the few impacted travelers should contact the airlines for rebooking, as needed.”
Johnson said those airports account for about 94 percent of travelers flying to the United States from the three countries, noting that there are no direct, nonstop commercial flights from Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea to the United States.
The restrictions apply to all travelers, including U.S. citizens and those who would have arrived by land or sea.
Washington-based trade group Airlines for America, or A4A, noted that less than 150 people per day travel to the United States from those three countries, and about 6 percent of them — some nine people daily — have been arriving at airports other than the five airports with the enhanced Ebola screening.
The group’s member airlines are “cooperating fully” with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency to reroute that 6 percent of travelers to the five designated airports, A4A spokeswoman Jean Medina said.
The group’s members include Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and American Airlines, none of which fly to the affected countries. However, they may carry passengers from these countries on a connecting flight.
The worst Ebola outbreak on record has killed more than 4,500 people, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The United States has experienced only three infections and one death from Ebola, but public concern has been rising and many lawmakers have pressed President Barack Obama to take tougher action.
Support for travel ban
A Reuters/Ipsos online poll released on Tuesday showed that nearly three-fourths of 1,602 Americans questioned for the survey favored a U.S. ban on civilian air travel in and out of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
A Gallup poll on Tuesday showed that Ebola has moved into the top 10 issues of concern to Americans but remained well behind five other issues: the economy, dissatisfaction with government, jobs, healthcare and immigration.
In Washington, some lawmakers welcomed the government’s new steps while others said more needed to be done.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, called the Department of Homeland Security move “a good and effective step towards tightening the net and further protecting our citizens.”
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, who heads the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, said Obama needs to go further and impose a travel ban, a step the administration thus far has resisted.
“President Obama has a real solution at his disposal under current law and can use it at any time to temporarily ban foreign nationals from entering the United States from Ebola-ravaged countries,” Goodlatte said.
Other countries have imposed travel bans, with the Dominican Republic becoming the latest on Tuesday. Its public health ministry said it is banning entry to foreigners who have visited Ebola-affected countries in the previous 30 days.
Concerns that Americans might fall victim to scams because of fear about Ebola prompted a warning on Tuesday from New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman about bogus Ebola preparedness kits and preventative medications.
There are no U.S. government-approved vaccines, medications or dietary supplements to prevent or treat Ebola.
Such schemes aim to prey on Americans’ worries over the virus after the first patient diagnosed in the United States, Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan, died in a Dallas hospital on Oct. 8 and another infected patient, nurse Amber Vinson who had treated Duncan, flew from Texas to Ohio and back.
In Texas, 60 people have been removed from watch lists after showing no Ebola symptoms in 21 days of monitoring, with 112 more people still being monitored for possible exposure, federal health officials said.
Vinson’s mother, Debra Berry, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” program on Tuesday her daughter is weak but recovering at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, where she was taken last week for treatment.