Screening travelers for covid-19 symptoms was ineffective

(CNN) — Screening programs based on temperature and symptoms do not help detect cases of coronavirus, said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In a new report, the CDC took a closer look at the programs used at US airports through mid-September.

In January, the CDC began an enhanced screening program for air passengers arriving from certain countries with widespread transmission of the new coronavirus.

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The goal was to find travelers who were ill and separate them from other passengers, share information with travelers about self-monitoring, and obtain their contact information that could be shared with the passenger’s local Public Health department.

The CDC said this was a resource intensive program that had a low case detection rate.

Between January 17 and September 13, the CDC screened more than 766,000 travelers. Almost 300 met the criteria for public health screening, 35 were tested for coronavirus, and nine tested positive. That means the program identified about one case for every 85,000 travelers tested, the CDC reported Thursday in the agency’s weekly report.

Why didn’t this approach to detect covid work?

This style of evaluation doesn’t seem to work for a few reasons. Covid-19 has a wide range of specific symptoms common to other infections, there are a large number of asymptomatic cases, travelers may deny symptoms or take steps to avoid detection, and passenger data was limited.

The CDC also shared contact information with local health departments for 68% of the passengers it screened. There were data collection problems, according to the report, and some states chose not to receive the information.

The CDC ended the program on September 14. Instead, they have focused on communicating more with travelers to promote recommended preventive measures. The agency has also improved public health response capacity at ports of entry.

The CDC said travelers and their local communities would be better protected if there was a “more efficient” collection of contact information for international air passengers prior to their arrival as well as real-time data that could be sent to health departments. Pre-departure tests within 72 hours of travel and arrival tests would help, as would rules that would encourage the traveler to self-isolate for a set period.

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