Grand jury probes SFO disease readinessBy Mark Abramson
A new civil grand jury report gives medical screeners at San Francisco International Airport high marks when it comes to spotting travelers with communicable diseases, but indicates that improvements are needed to prepare for a scenario in which large numbers of people have to be quarantined.
The San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury began studying how passengers with communicable diseases are dealt with at SFO after 31-year-old Andrew Speaker, an Atlanta lawyer, flew from Europe to Montreal while infected with a drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis last May, grand jury foreman Jerry Yaffee said.
"It kind of piqued our interest," Yaffee said.
In a report released Thursday, the grand jury found that the airport's medical screening procedures for arriving international travelers are adequate as long as there is no major outbreak that requires large groups of people to be quarantined.
The grand jury recommended that the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors study how the airport can prepare for such a health emergency. The report also stated the county should work with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state, and neighboring San Francisco County, which owns the airport, to develop procedures for dealing with a large-scale communicable-disease outbreak.
That includes determining whether ill passengers would be quarantined at the airport or elsewhere.
SFO spokesman Mike McCarron said if numerous travelers had to be quarantined, the airport might not have the space, but that any plan for how to deal with such a situation and where to house those people would have to come from health officials.
County health officials and CDC representatives could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The report also stated that federal and county health officials are doing an adequate job of monitoring and quarantining ill people in small numbers.
The county has one health-care employee who is at the airport 10 percent of the time, but the grand jury proposed increasing that percentage.
The report also found that additional training is needed for airline, airport, police, customs and other personnel who may have to help respond to a large outbreak.
Copyright ©2008 San Mateo County Times. Published 02/29/2008.