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U.S. to monitor all who arrive from West Africa

WASHINGTON – The United States will soon require every airline passenger from Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia who arrives in one of six states to undergo 21 days of official monitoring for symptoms of Ebola.

The new initiative, which begins Monday, will require state and local health officials in Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia to collect detailed information from the travelers as part of an elaborate plan to keep tabs on their whereabouts while they’re in the United States.

Under the new protocols, visitors must provide contact information to local health authorities who will maintain daily contact with them, search for those who don’t comply and arrange transportation for the sick to medical facilities.

“These new measures I’m announcing today will give additional levels of safety so that people who develop symptoms of Ebola are isolated early in the course of their illness,” said Tom Frieden, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “That will reduce the chance that Ebola will spread from an ill person to close contacts and health care workers.”

It was unclear whether underfunded state and local health departments will be up to their heightened responsibilities under the new plan. Some question whether a travel ban for the three countries might be a less burdensome but equally effective alternative for health officials.

The United States receives about 150 travelers each day from the three Ebola-ravaged West African nations. About 70 percent of them are headed for the six target states, Frieden said. Most are either U.S. citizens or longtime legal visitors to America, he said.

Travelers from the three countries already undergo a basic level of screening for the virus upon arrival in the United States through any of five airports that were designated Wednesday to receive all passengers from those countries: They have their temperatures checked, are asked to provide contact information and are questioned about their possible exposure to Ebola.

Those airports are New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

But starting Monday, local health officials in the six states must collect much more detailed information and maintain daily contact with the travelers for the three weeks they’d be at risk of contracting the virus after exposure.

Under the plan, a West African traveler must provide two email addresses, two telephone numbers, a home address, an address for the next 21 days.

“Visitors will also be given “Check and Report Ebola” kits at the airport, known simply as CARE kits. The kit will include a tracking log, a description of Ebola symptoms, a thermometer and instructions on how to use it, and a wallet card with information on whom to contact if they develop symptoms.

Meanwhile, Ebola is now undetectable in Texas nurse Amber Vinson’s body, and she has been approved to leave isolation at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, her family announced Wednesday.

Officials from the hospital and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found Vinson to be clear of the deadly virus as of Tuesday evening, but she’s still being treated at the hospital, the family said in a statement.

“Amber and our family are ecstatic to receive this latest report on her condition,” said her mother, Debra Berry. “We all know that further treatment will be necessary as Amber continues to regain strength, but these latest developments have truly answered prayers and bring our family one step closer to reuniting with her at home.”

Vinson, 29, was the second of two nurses diagnosed with Ebola this month after taking care of Thomas Eric Duncan, the first Ebola patient diagnosed on U.S. soil, at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas.

– The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.

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