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Symptom-based screening for Covid at airports is ‘ineffective’, says CDC report

Screening air passengers for symptoms associated with coronavirus is “resource-intensive” and “ineffective” according to a new report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Instead, testing, done within 72 hours of departure, could help reduce transmissions of Covid-19 during travel.

Several US airports, including Los Angeles Airport and New York JFK, became dedicated entry points for passengers who had recently travelled to or transited through China during this period. The screening was later expanded to include other destinations that had “widespread, sustained transmission” of Covid-19.

At these airports, incoming passengers were screened according to known coronavirus symptoms, including temperature checks, and had to fill in a health questionnaire.

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The aim was to control the spread of coronavirus in the US and reduce the number of cases being brought into the country by separating those who may have had the illness, educating passengers about the virus and to collect their contact details..

According to the report, between 17 January and 13 September, a total of 766,044 travelers were screened. Of these, just 298 (0.04 per cent) met the criteria for public health assessment, 35 (0.005 per cent) were tested for Covid-19, and nine (0.001 per cent) had a positive test result.

Despite requiring “considerable resources”, the screening programme identified just one positive coronavirus case per 85,000 passengers according to the report. It led the report’s authors to conclude that “symptom-based screening programmes are ineffective because of the nonspecific clinical presentation of Covid-19 and asymptomatic cases.”

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