MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) – Ebola may be far from South Florida, but the county commission handed down the mandate for all agencies to be ready.
Big meetings took place on Wednesday at Miami International Airport and at Miami-Dade County’s Emergency Operations Center to fine tune the protocols for Ebola.READ MORE: Federal Government Sets Aside $1.1 Billion To Restore Ailing Florida Everglades
The closed door meeting at MIA between airport officials, the CDC and Customs targeted the handling of travelers. Since there are no direct flights from West Africa to Miami, there were major questions.
How do they handle connecting passengers? Which agency identifies who needs to be screened? What protocols need to be updated for Ebola and other infectious diseases?
Insiders told CBS4’s Brian Andrews they’re looking at everything; from protocols for arriving domestic and international passengers, to what an airport employee should do if someone steps off a flight and starts vomiting blood.
One of the new procedures would be to check the temperatures of passengers coming from West Africa via a connection elsewhere.
If the travelers meet the new criteria for symptoms, they could be entered into the CDC quarantine area.
These criteria include physical symptoms, what countries they visited, if they are on a watch list for a specific malady and more.
Close sources also told Andrews that the CDC’s health inspectors have ramped up their surveillance on arriving international flights from the Americas and the Caribbean, where severe strains of the flu, dengue fever and cholera have been a problem.
The CDC said it has staff in the two different federal inspection stations at MIA which can address these issues.
In a similar meeting, key players in the Miami-Dade Emergency Operations Center spoke with state and local officials about handling infectious diseases.
Lillian Rivera of the Florida Department of Health said parameters have been set to battle everything.
“They can throw anything our way; N1H1, swine flu, Enterovirus, even Ebola, we’re ready.”
All this comes at the same time the U.S. government said they are taking preemptive measures to stop Ebola at the doorstep. The plan is to have five U.S. airports take the temperature of passengers entering from West Africa.
At the White House, spokesman Josh Earnest said an additional layer of screening would begin at New York’s JFK International and the international airports in Newark, Washington Dulles, Chicago and Atlanta.READ MORE: Suspect In Haitian President's Murder Extradited To U.S.
Surprisingly, Miami International and Fort Lauderdale International are not on the list of airports adding the extra layer of security.
So the question remains, why did the government leave Miami and Fort Lauderdale off the list?
Earnest said the five airports chosen cover the destinations of 94 percent of the people who travel to the U.S. from the three heavily hit countries in West Africa — Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. He estimated that about 150 people would be checked a day under the new procedures.
Also on Wednesday, Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Customs and Border Protection agents are handing out information sheets to travelers with details of what symptoms to look for and directions to call doctors if they become sick within 21 days — the incubation period for Ebola.
Mayorkas said agents would observe all travelers for “general signs of illness” at the points of entry. He spoke at an airport security conference.
The White House, in a fact sheet this week, generally described Customs and Border Protection practices of being alert to passengers with obvious illnesses, but did not specify exactly what would be done to find potentially infected passengers.
The Obama administration has wrestled in recent weeks with what it can do, since arriving passengers may not be symptomatic when they arrive.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott agrees with the decision by the White House to start screening, and further stated restrictions are necessary.
“As to the discussion on international travel restrictions, I agree with Sen. Bill Nelson and Gov. Bobby Jindal that the White House needs to look at certain restrictions on travel from countries battling Ebola to keep Americans safe. This is not a partisan decision. It is a common sense decision,” Scott said in a statement.
He added, “I assume the administration is doing everything they can to secure our country and combat the spread of this disease. That is what we are doing in Florida and I assume they are taking the same steps at the federal level.”
However, Scott is still urging the President to fulfill the state’s request for 30 testing kits from the CDC and an additional 100 units of high-level protective gear.
“Florida still does not have any confirmed cases of Ebola, and we hope we never do, but we must continue to do everything possible to keep our citizens and our visitors safe,” Scott said.
(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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