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Should We Be Worried That All Returning LAX Passengers Aren't Getting COVID-19 Screening?

Jack Thuong of Long Beach said it was so quiet he had to take some selfies with his wife May to send back to relatives in Cambodia.(Josie Huang / LAist)
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We've been hearing from passengers arriving at Los Angeles International Airport that they are not being screened for the coronavirus. LAX is one of 13 airports that Homeland Security has designated to screen travelers from restricted countries.

Screening form. (Emily Guerin / LAist)

We asked LA Mayor Eric Garcetti this morning if he was confident that airport officials were following screening recommendations. He told us:

"There have absolutely been, I believe, holes in some of the screening nationally around our airports. There's a certain point that we control after it gets through the federal screening, and in that area I'm very confident of what we're doing."

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Garcetti cited sanitation stations and making sure staff are "cleaning religiously."

But he called the screenings by federal officals "a very uneven approach."

"We've worked very well — and I know how thinly stretched some of our federal partners are, from CBP, Coast Guard and others and our port and airport — but we are doing everything we can to make sure that there is not a single plane that gets through without that level of screening."

He said wait times last night at LAX were about 90 minutes, longer than usual but way less than other major airports around the nation.

Garcetti said that not everyone needed to be sreened under CDC protocol.

"LAX has no control over that process," he said. "We're keeping as close communication and I'm passing that on to federal authorities that we need to do more and we need to do better."

Airport officials announced this weekend that an LAX police officer has tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Los Angeles World Airports said in a statement that county public health officials were informed and are "working to identify any other officers or employees who may have had prolonged or close contact with this individual," and that interviews are being conducted to determine who else may be at risk.

An airport spokesman would not provide information about the most recent date the police officer was on the job.

Meanwhile Emily Guerin, who covers the environment for us, arrived last night from South America. She reports there was more coronavirus screening at the airport in Lima, Peru -- where she had a layover -- than when she got back to Los Angeles.

"The Peruvian government required us to fill out a form on the airplane with our flight and seat number, contact information, and any respiratory symptoms," she said. "And when we got off the plane, four different employees in masks asked us where we had come from and where we were going."

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Then, when she arrived at LAX, she said she was not asked to fill out any special forms. Airport employees divided passengers into lines, apparently based on what continent they had come from.

Josie Huang reported from the airport today. She heard from international passengers who had been screened and others who had not and said they wished they had been.

Newly-mandated health screenings for travelers coming from Europe greeted Angeleno Pam Jones on her way home from Spain on Sunday. Her forehead was scanned to check for fever and she was quizzed.

"They just wanted to know had we gone to China or some of these other places? And our address, I guess, to contact us," said Jones, a pharmaceutical representative.Jones says it took no more than 30 minutes to get through customs at LAX — a big contrast to the long lines reported Saturday at O’Hare in Chicago and Dallas-Fort Worth.

Edgar Ocampo, 70, was returning to his home in Santa Barbara from visiting family in the Philippines. He was not screened.

"This is a very deadly disease," he said. "You know, it knows no boundaries, does not discriminate nobody."

Ocampo said in the Phillipines shoppers are scanned for temperatures in grocery stores. Travelers coming from Japan, South Korea, Thailand and the South Pacific also expressed surprise they were not screened.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not provide comment by Sunday night.

The scene at LAX was in sharp contrast to other airports. Illinois Gov. Jay Pritzker angrily tweeted at President Trump and Vice President Pence about his frustration about the crowded conditions at Chicago's O'Hare last night.


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