Support for LAist comes from
We Explain L.A.
Stay Connected

Share This


No Screening For 'Rich People' At LAX? 'Maybe Just Kidding'

LAX on March 18, 2020. (Frederic J. BrownAFP via Getty Images)
LAist relies on your reader support.
Your tax-deductible gift today powers our reporters and keeps us independent. We rely on you, our reader, not paywalls to stay funded because we believe important news and information should be freely accessible to all.

Our friends at ProPublica obtained hundreds of pages of correspondence between federal and state public health officials through a records request in Nevada. Their goal was to examine the period of time from January to early March, when health officials were trying to stay ahead of the coronavirus outbreak underway in China.

Their analysis of those records?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "fumbled its communication with public health officials and underestimated the threat of the coronavirus even as it gained a foothold in the United States."

At LAX, one of the airports where enhanced screening measures were supposed to be in place, ProPublica found the correspondence indicates the efforts were hampered by translation issues and confusion. Here's one exchange the nonprofit investigative newsroom found:

Support for LAist comes from
The screening protocol also wasn’t always clear. On Feb. 29, a CDC officer at LAX sent an email to her colleagues, saying: “In case this comes up again, we are not screening private flights. These would be flights that land at LAX but don’t arrive into the regular terminal … mainly for rich people.”

Just over two hours later, the officer emailed again. “And, maybe just kidding,” she wrote. Information from headquarters seemed to contradict what she had said about private flights, she said.

ProPublica said the CDC responded that "it scaled up the screening almost overnight, so it focused on vetting the largest segment possible of high-risk passengers coming from places like Wuhan, China. The agency trained staff and dealt as best it could with limited staffing and translation services," it said.