US customs and health officials began taking the temperatures of passengers arriving at New York's Kennedy International Airport from three West African countries on Saturday in a stepped-up screening effort meant to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus.
Federal health officials said the entry screenings, which will expand to four additional US airports in the next week, add another layer of protection to halt the spread of a disease that has killed more than 4,000 people.
"Already 100 percent of the travelers leaving the three infected countries are being screened on exit. Sometimes multiple times temperatures are checked along that process," Dr. Martin Cetron, director of the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine for the federal Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, said at a briefing at Kennedy.
Cetron added, "No matter how many procedures are put into place, we can't get the risk to zero."
The screening will be expanded over the next week to four other airports: New Jersey's Newark Liberty, Washington Dulles, Chicago O'Hare and Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta.
Customs officials say about 150 people travel daily from or through Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea to the United States, and nearly 95 percent of them land first at one of the five airports.
There are no direct flights to the US from the three countries, but Homeland Security officials said last week they can track passengers back to where their trips began, even if they make several stops. Airlines from Morocco, France and Belgium are still flying in and out of West Africa.
Public health workers use no-touch thermometers to take the temperatures of the travelers from the three Ebola-ravaged countries; those who have a fever will be interviewed to determine whether they may have had contact with someone infected with Ebola. There are quarantine areas at each of the five airports that can be used if necessary.
President Barack Obama said Wednesday that the new screening measures are "really just belt and suspenders" to support protections already in place. Border Patrol agents already look for people who are obviously ill, as do flight crews.
Health officials expect false alarms from travelers who have fever from other illnesses. Ebola isn't contagious until symptoms begin, and it spreads through direct contact with the bodily fluids of patients.
Cetron said more than 36,000 travelers leaving West Africa have been screened for Ebola in the last two months and none was infected with Ebola.
The extra screening at US airports probably wouldn't have identified Thomas Eric Duncan when he arrived from Liberia last month because he had no symptoms while traveling. Duncan, the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the US, died Wednesday in Dallas.
Experts say the federal government has broad authority to screen passengers and quarantine them if necessary.
In other developments, officials in the state of New Jersey issued a mandatory quarantine order for members of an NBC television crew that was exposed to a cameraman with Ebola in Liberia after they said a voluntary 21-day isolation agreement was violated.
The order went into effect Friday night.
Officials with the state Health Department told The Associated Press the crew remains symptom-free and there is no reason for concern of exposure to the deadly virus to the community.
Citing privacy concerns, department officials wouldn't give further details, including who violated the voluntary agreement and how the state learned of the violation.
The NBC crew included medical correspondent Nancy Snyderman, who lives in New Jersey. She was working with Ashoka Mukpo, a cameraman who was infected with the disease in West Africa. Mukpo is being treated at a hospital in Omaha, Nebraska.
An NBC representative told The AP it fully supports the guidelines set by local health authorities.