EL PASO, Texas -- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control confirmed to ABC-7 on Wednesday that they will be increasing screenings of international travelers to encompass 20 entry points - including El Paso's airport and border crossings.
The clarification comes after local airport and border officials expressed confusion following the original federal announcement about expanded screenings on Tuesday. It appears the expanded screenings have not yet begun.
A spokesperson for El Paso International Airport told ABC-7 that "the CDC has not provided any direct notice to EPIA about plans to conduct screenings. Currently, there are no screenings being conducted at EPIA."
And the El Paso sector spokesman for Customs and Border Protection told ABC-7: "CBP is not conducting health screenings of travelers. CDC personnel are responsible for the health screenings at all locations. CBP is working with the CDC to identify arriving travelers who have a nexus to Wuhan and who require enhanced health screenings."
Benjamin Haynes, the senior spokesman for the CDC's infectious disease team at its Atlanta headquarters, told ABC-7 on Wednesday that the "CDC has reassessed its entry screening strategy and decided to expand ill traveler response capacity from the current five airports to all 20 quarantine stations in the United States."
The list of expanded screening locations Haynes provided directly to ABC-7 included El Paso. Other Texas locations on that CDC list included Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston. Haynes said he was "not 100% sure" when the expanded screenings would begin at El Paso and the other locations. (You can see the entire list at the end of this article.)
As Haynes noted, the CDC had been screening for illness among passengers arriving from the epicenter of China's outbreak at five major U.S. airports. But people who've visited other parts of China still may be arriving, with stops in other places first. On Tuesday, the CDC announced it was sending extra staff to other “quarantine stations” to screen arrivals at additional airports and border crossings.
A check of the CDC's website on Wednesday reflected that it has set up a "quarantine station" in El Paso.
Even as officials are expanding their checks of international travelers for signs of the virus, they say the risk to Americans so far is very low.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said worry about the virus should not affect Americans' day-to-day lives. So far, there are five confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. and no sign those patients have spread the illness to those around them.
“At this point Americans should not worry for their own safety,” Azar told reporters Tuesday. Still, he added, “this is a very fast-moving, constantly changing situation."
With an incubation period of anywhere from two to 14 days, travelers may arrive showing no symptoms. But CDC's Dr. Nancy Messonnier said the screenings are an opportunity to educate travelers that if they start feeling sick — with a fever, cough or flu-like symptoms — after returning from an outbreak zone, they should contact their doctor. That's exactly what the first U.S. patients did.
Azar said he has directed $105 million to fight the outbreak. Among the next steps, the CDC developed a test for the virus and aims to make it usable by state health departments, to speed diagnosis of suspected cases. Research also is under way to develop a vaccine or treatment.
But for now, without a vaccine or treatments, the world is depending on tried-and-true public health steps to tamp down the outbreak — finding the infected early and isolating them to stem the spread.
China has confirmed more than 4,500 people with the respiratory illness, which in severe cases can cause pneumonia, with dozens more counted in other countries.
Here's the list of expanded screening locations provided to ABC-7 by the CDC:
5. Dallas Fort Worth
7. El Paso
10. Los Angeles
12. Minneapolis-St. Paul
13. New York
16. San Diego
17. San Francisco
18. San Juan, Puerto Rico
19. Seattle Tacoma
20. Washington, DC (Dulles)