CITY HALL — The city's senior alderman wants travelers screened for Ebola at O'Hare and Midway airports — and he said airlines should foot the bill.
Yet, just as Ald. Edward Burke (14th) was submitting the proposal at Wednesday's City Council meeting, the federal government was announcing it would begin temperature screenings of passengers arriving from west Africa at five U.S. airports, including Kennedy International in New York City this weekend and O'Hare next week.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the U.S. government action of "enhanced screenings," which is "immediate and right in front of us," supersedes any City Council action, but he committed his administration to stay on top of it.
"We're gonna work at every level, both at aviation and our public health, to ensure we have the safety and security in place to ensure both our public health and our public safety," Emanuel said after Wednesday's City Council meeting.
"It is important that the City of Chicago move swiftly to put all reasonable precautions in place to avoid any possible danger because O'Hare Airport is such a busy hub not only for Chicago, but also the Midwest," Burke said in a statement.
Burke's proposed ordinance would mandate screening passengers coming from foreign countries through questionnaires and, "if warranted," having their temperatures taken "or further examination."
The screening process would also look for other communicable diseases like swine flu, bird flu, SARS, hantavirus, measles, MRSA and tuberculosis.
"The aim is to reduce the risk of the continued spread of this deadly disease by keeping a vigilant eye on passengers disembarking in Chicago, especially while the epidemic continues to ravage west Africa," added Ald. Michael Zalewski (23rd), chairman of the Aviation Committee, who co-sponsored the ordinance.
The ordinance specifically states: "The cost of these programs shall be undertaken by the airline industry."
Other airports across the country are also considering Ebola screenings, though some public health officials are skeptical about the screenings having any impact on the spread of disease.
The other international airports slated for enhanced screenings are Washington Dulles, Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta and Newark Liberty in New Jersey.
Burke and Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) also called for hearings on the Federal Aviation Administration fire in suburban Aurora last month that crippled both O'Hare and Midway and continues to complicate air traffic.
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