US Halts Airport Health Screenings as CDC Cites “Limited Effectiveness”

The federal government is ending its policy of screening international travelers to the United States for coronavirus symptoms at 15 designated airports across the nation, according to a new statement from the CDC.

Starting Monday, passengers from areas formerly considered virus “hot spots” will also not be required to fly into one of these designated airports. 

The health agency cited the limited effectiveness of current screening measures – which includes temperature checks and symptom questions – in adequately helping to deter the spread of the virus.

“We now have a better understanding of COVID-19 transmission that indicates symptom-based screening has limited effectiveness because people with COVID-19 may have no symptoms or fever at the time of screening, or only mild symptoms. Transmission of the virus may occur from passengers who have no symptoms or who have not yet developed symptoms of infection.” the statement reads.

Prioritizing other public health measures: 

In lieu of the old policies, the CDC says that the government will dedicate its resources to methods “that focus on the individual passenger,” laying out a series of somewhat vague strategies that will be part of the plan. These include health education for passengers, before, during, and after their flights, voluntary collection of contact information, and “robust illness response at airports.” 

Airlines for America, a trade group representing major airlines agreed with the changes, saying in part “we continue to support spending scarce screening resources where they can best be utilized.” 

Some experts disagree: 

While news of halting temperature checks and symptom screening questions remains relatively uncontroversial, some are concerned that the government has failed to replace these methods with more effective policies.

According to Jeff Schlegelmilch, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, a lack of mandatory quarantines for travelers from high-risk regions leaves the US susceptible to fresh cases. 

“These policies were likely at best marginally effective. We know that temperature screenings are not an effective barrier,” Schlegelmilch said. “My concern is less that they’re removing these barriers and more that they’re not replacing them with a required quarantine.”

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