WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker today pressed the White House for answers regarding the Administration’s COVID-19 screening efforts at airports across the country. In a letter to Vice President Pence, the lawmakers cite troubling reports of individuals not being screened for COVID-19 at airports, including Newark Liberty, despite traveling from regions with high cases of the virus.
“Travelers report not being screened or even asked whether they had traveled to areas with high rates of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the past 14 days,” the senators wrote. “If we hope to minimize the spread of the novel coronavirus, it is imperative that officials screen travelers entering the country from locations with a significant number of COVID-19 cases.”
Specifically, Sens. Menendez and Booker are requesting information on screenings performed on individuals traveling to the United States from countries reporting high volume of COVID-19 cases, how the results of these screenings are being communicated, and if airport workers are receiving the proper training and equipment to minimize risk associated with the virus.
A copy of the letter can be found below.
Dear Vice President Pence:
We write regarding the concerning reports that individuals traveling to the United States from countries with high volumes of confirmed cases of COVID-19 are not being screened for the illness at ports of entry.
On January 17, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that they would be screening travelers from China at three airports in the United States—JFK Airport, San Francisco International Airport, and Los Angeles International Airport. On January 28, 2020, the CDC expanded screenings for travelers coming from China to an additional 17 airports in the United States, including Newark Liberty International Airport, in an effort to better screen for potential cases of novel coronavirus. On March 2, 2020, recognizing the increased number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Iran, the U.S. expanded screenings through approved airports for individuals traveling from Iran.
However, increases in the number of COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in other parts of the world, most notably in South Korea and Italy. In response to these increases you announced that the U.S. State Department would be issuing its highest travel advisory, “Level 4: Do Not Travel,” for regions of both countries. At the time of your announcement there were over 1,100 cases in Italy and 3,100 cases in South Korea.
Despite these increased travel advisories, there have been several troubling reports of individuals who recently traveled from Italy and South Korea to airports across the United States, including Newark Liberty International Airport, and were not screened at any point, either leaving their country of origin, or entering the United States.      Travelers report not being screened or even asked whether they had traveled to areas with high rates of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the past 14 days. If we hope to minimize the spread of the novel coronavirus, it is imperative that officials screen travelers entering the country from locations with a significant number of COVID-19 cases.
In an effort to better understand the Administration’s screening efforts related to the novel coronavirus we request answers to the following questions no later than March 20, 2020:
1. During a press conference on February 29, 2020, you stated that the U.S. State Department would be coordinating with South Korea and Italy to conduct screenings in those countries for people traveling to the United States.
2. Other countries are also beginning to see increases in the number of presumptive-positive COVID-19 cases. Germany and France have each reported over 1,200 cases thus far.
i. As this global health threat continues to spread, both internationally and domestically, do the CDC and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plan to expand screening to travelers who enter the United States and have been in any high-risk areas in the past 14 days?
ii. In January, 20 airports across the country were given additional resources to screen passengers who had recently traveled from Wuhan, China. However, as of this month, travelers from China and Iran are being directed to 11 airports for COVID-19 screening. To what extent, if at all, is increased screening still being conducted at additional airports outside of the 11 designated sites, and at which airports?
iii. At the 11 designated airports, is any additional screening being conducted for travelers coming from high-risk areas outside of China and Iran?
iv. What support or resources are embassies and consulates in countries with high volumes of confirmed COVID-19 cases providing American citizens or permanent residents living in, or visiting those countries?
3. In January, CDC provided travelers from Wuhan, China with information about the novel coronavirus and steps to take if they believe they had contracted COVID-19.
i. Will the CDC and DHS coordinate with states and localities to send notices to individuals who may have come in contact with individuals infected with the novel coronavirus?
ii. Is the CDC providing information to individuals traveling in the United States from other high-risk areas?
iii. If so, will this information about the novel coronavirus, include symptoms to be aware of, how to minimize risk of becoming infected, and what steps to take in case a traveler believes they have contracted COVID-19?
iv. Will CDC provide this information in multiple languages and in ways that are accessible to individuals with disabilities?
4. Has CDC or DHS provided airport and airline workers, Transportation Security Administration officers, or Customs and Border Protection officers with equipment, information, or training to minimize the risk of contracting and spreading novel coronavirus?
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter and we look forward to your response.