U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio arrived at one of South Florida and the U.S.'s largest airports on Thursday morning to speak about passengers' concerns about the Ebola outbreak.
At this time, five airports in the U.S. have implemented additional screenings for patients, but Miami International Airport and Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport are not included in that list.
Rubio acknowledged that at this time South Florida's airports do not have the best practices or protocols for dealing with this epidemic. He said we simply don't have the knowledge to implement the best protocols at this time, but said officials are working on it.
"We have the capability of identifying, to some extent, people who are connecting from a third country into the United States," said Rubio. "We do so for national security purposes. We've never done so for purposes of a pandemic of this magnitude. And again, the balancing act here is we want to be careful and prudent, but we also don't want to be counterproductive and paralyze global commerce and trade."
While MIA is not one of the focused airports with direct flights from affected countries, extensive protocols are in place to identify sick travelers and it is one of the only quarantine stations nationwide.
"Taking time out and using valuable resources for a minimal percentage of people that are coming from West Africa now, I would rather look to see where else I could apply those resources," said MIA Director Emilio Gonzalez.
Rubio was at MIA with a contingent of government and health decision-makers. He said he backs banning travel from Ebola-affected countries, and would suggest that President Obama sign an executive order to do so. The senator also acknowledged a scramble at the federal level to learn why protocols followed by two health care workers dealing with the Ebola case in Texas were not enough to protect them from infection and to implement those lessons learned.
"It is clear that we have not established adequate protocols to address it, and if there a part of the world deeply affected by something of this nature, we should prohibit people from traveling here from there until such time the outbreak is under control," said Rubio.
The commander of the United States Southern Command, based in Doral, said last week that there was a real concern because people who travel regularly from the infected areas, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, often travel through Central America.
He said South Florida airports, and especially MIA and the seaport, could become at risk because of the large number of travelers to South Florida from Central America. However, at this time officials at the federal level are primarily concerned with looking into what went wrong in Texas, and figure out how to implement the best protocols and practices throughout the nation's airports.
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