Travelers leaving N.O. worry about Ebola

Published: Oct. 3, 2014 at 9:57 PM CDT
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Passengers move about Armstrong Airport on Friday (FOX 8 photo)
Passengers move about Armstrong Airport on Friday (FOX 8 photo)

Some people taking planes and trains out of the city of New Orleans Friday expressed concerns about who might be sitting next to them during their travels.

That's because Liberian airport officials have said the man now being treated in Dallas for Ebola lied on an airport questionnaire before flying out of the West African country about whether he had been in contact with anyone exhibiting symptoms of the killer virus.

Liberian Thomas Duncan had helped to carry a seriously ill woman to a hospital in Liberia before boarding planes that would carry him to the U.S. And some people waiting to fly out of New Orleans Armstrong International Airport had a hard time wrapping their heads around the circumstances that allowed Duncan to leave West Africa.

"A little concerned because the way that the hospital actually handled the case," said Darius Allen.

Allen was waiting to fly back home to Dallas, where people remain on edge.

"How many people who were actually exposed is the question," he said while seated in the New Orleans airport.

Ebola was on the minds of many travelers.

"We could have a lot of people affected, and it's terrible because time is of the essence. We got to trace these people down," said Larry Peluso, a biologist flying to Los Angeles.

"It's not an airborne virus, so if you are careful who you touch and what you touch, but anything that somebody had moisture on their hands touches - that's a risk," he said.

Armstrong Airport issued a press release saying the terminal is on alert and has emergency protocols in place should an incident arise.

Miles away at the Union Passenger Terminal where trains and Greyhound buses depart, some passengers also had concerns.

"It's just kind of scary just thinking you could be sitting next to a person. I think it's probably going to turn into a big crisis," said Amtrak passenger Betty Gillepsie.

She said she will rethink her travel habits.

"It's probably something that's going to limit my travel. I have to travel sometimes for work," Gillepsie said.

"Always possible, you don't know where it is," said Tom Mellen, another Amtrak passenger.

But he didn't think it would be a good idea to require trains and planes to distribute hand sanitizer.

"I think it might cause more panic, telling people, well, watch out the guy next to you might be sick. He may not be, probably won't be," Mellen said.

Gov. Bobby Jindal wants President Barack Obama to shut the door on flights coming to the U.S. from areas where Ebola is out of control.

"I think it's beyond time that the Obama Administration stop these flights from these countries where we got these epidemics," Jindal said.

"Something has to be done. You really can't let Ebola come over and take over the U.S. I'm not sure shutting the border is the solution, but that might be the only option," Allen said after being asked about Jindal's position.

Some passengers, while concerned about Ebola, think shutting out flights from Ebola-stricken countries would be too extreme.

"There must be a better way of screening them than just from preventing them from traveling altogether," said Ken Foy, who was flying to Washington D.C.

Still, having overseas airport personnel rely on the word of travelers who appear symptom-free gave some American travelers pause.

"It's the same thing that happened to the Africans, they were telling lies and lies in Liberia if they want to get out of the country," said Peluso.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued the following statement:

"U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the CDC have closely coordinated to develop policies, procedures, and protocols to identify travelers that are known by U.S. public health officials to have a communicable disease and to handle in a manner that minimizes risk to the public. These procedures have been utilized collaboratively by both agencies on a number of occasions with positive results.

"CBP personnel review all travelers entering the United States for general overt signs of illnesses (visual observation and questioning), and notify CDC as appropriate at all U.S. ports of entry, including all federal inspection stations at U.S. airports that service international flights.

"When a traveler or alien is identified with a possible communicable disease, or identified from information that is received from the CDC, CBP personnel will take the appropriate safety measures by donning personal protective equipment (PPE), to include gloves and surgical masks which are readily available for use in the course of their duties.

"CBP personnel receive training in illness recognition, but if they identify an individual believed to be infected, CBP will contact CDC along with local public health authorities to help with further medical evaluation," the statement reads."

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