‘They came back with white masks’: CDC responds to sick passenger on flight
(CNN) — [Breaking news update at 7:20 p.m. ET]
A passenger who arrived Saturday at New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport had symptoms “found to be consistent with another minor treatable condition unrelated to Ebola,” the New Jersey Department of Health said in a statement.
[Original story published at 6:47 p.m. ET]
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Saturday quarantined an international flight in New Jersey after a passenger became ill on the plane, authorities said.
United Airlines Flight 998 from Brussels, Belgium, touched down at Newark Liberty International Airport at 12:15 p.m.
CDC quarantine officers met the plane after one of the 255 passengers was vomiting on the flight, officials said.
The passengers were released at 1:50 p.m. and permitted to go through customs, said Erica Dumas, a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey spokesperson. The sick passenger and his daughter were taken to a hospital for evaluation. Passengers said it took another two hours to clear customs and retrieve their luggage.
The incident comes amid heightened concerns after Thomas Eric Duncan, who had recently arrived from Liberia, on Tuesday was confirmed as the first case of the deadly Ebola virus diagnosed on American soil. Duncan arrived in the United States after a connection in Brussels.
“So far, nothing to indicate patient has Ebola, but given all the heightened concerns precautions were taken,” an airport official told CNN.
Dumas said the response was standard procedure with sick passengers, but it was unclear how long the protocol has been in place.
CDC officials removed the man and his daughter while other passengers remained on board. The two passengers were escorted by CDC officials in hazmat gear. The daughter did not exhibit any symptoms.
“They were wearing masks and gloves on the plane,” said a passenger from Paris who identified himself only as Chris. They came with whole suits like you see on TV everyday in Africa.”
Passenger Rich Burchett told CNN he was sitting next to the sick man.
“He nudged me and asked me to get the flight attendant,” Burchett said. The man told him, “I need a flight attendant. My eyes are floating. I’ve never felt this way before. They hurt.”
According to Burchett, a flight attendant asked the man where he was traveling from. He responded: Liberia.
“Immediately they both left and some time passed and they came back and asked him for his name,” Burchett said of the flight attendants. “He handed them his passport. They came back with white masks and asked [the man and his daughter] to put them on.”
The sick passenger and the girl were taken to the back of the plane, Burchett said.
The plane landed about an hour and a half later. An announcement was made about a sick passenger. People were asked to stay in their seats. More than an hour passed.
“They told us they were waiting on the CDC and everyone realized the gravity of the situation,” Burchett said.
Nearly two hours after the flight landed, Burchett said, an announcement was made: “Everyone can leave. He is not contagious.”
Passengers were given forms to fill out so that the CDC can follow up with them. They were handed an information sheet with Ebola symptoms.
“We did get an announcement from a representative of the CDC that we were held as an abundance of caution,” Burchett said.
Burchett and other passengers were critical of the response.
“My concern is, if this were something that were highly contagious, we did not seem to have a very good reaction plan,” he said. “We seemed very uncoordinated at the airport. I hope we learn from it.”
Passenger Henry Costa, a talk show host from Monrovia, Libreria, said the man did not initially show signs of illness.
“He didn’t seem sick and then all of sudden I saw them taking him out,” he recalled. “He looked strong but they say he was vomiting.”
Costa said he had spoken with the man and his daughter before the flight left Liberia.
“He was lively,” Costa said. “His daughter was very inquisitive. She asked so many questions. Apparently, it was her first time flying.”
The man and his daughter were taken to University Hospital, where the emergency room will not accept anyone else for four hours, CNN affiliate WABC reported.
In a statement this week, the CDC said quarantine inspectors meet arriving aircraft and ships reporting ill passengers or crew to assist them in getting appropriate medical treatment. The agency CDC has a network of quarantine stations at 20 ports of entry and land-border crossings.
“If the flight crew of a commercial aircraft arriving in the U.S. becomes aware of an ill person on board which may include a person with Ebola symptoms, the captain is required required by law … to report the illness to the nearest U.S. Quarantine Station, who will arrange the appropriate medical response at the flight’s destination airport,” the statement said.
On Saturday, CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden addressed the growing concerns about the deadly disease.
“We have already gotten well over 100 inquiries of possible patients,” Frieden told reporters. “We’ve assessed every one of those … and just this one patient has tested positive … We expect that we will see more rumors or concerns or possibilities of cases, until there is a positive laboratory test, that is what they are.”
CNN’s Kristina Sgueglia, John Bonifield, Jennifer Bixler, Shimon Prokupecz, Jennifer Henderson, Christina Alesci and Daniel Verello contributed to this report.
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