- The CDC plans to ramp up surveillance at select airports to track infectious diseases during the holiday travel season.
- The Traveler-based Genomic Surveillance program will be expanded to better track diseases at four major US airports.
- Over 370,000 travelers have participated in the program, which tests for flu, RSV, and other respiratory viruses in addition to SARS-CoV-2.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced plans to ramp up surveillance at some airports in the nation to track infectious diseases, according to a recent press release. With the holiday travel season approaching, health officials hope to reduce the spread of viruses, the agency stated.
The CDC will expand its Traveler-based Genomic Surveillance program to better track infectious diseases at Boston’s Logan International Airport, Virginia’s Dulles International Airport, New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, and California’s San Francisco International Airport. “Participants answer a short survey, which provides a rich meta-data to accompany these samples and inform public health decision making. Nasal samples can be transferred to CDC laboratories for further testing,” the agency’s website states.
The CDC claims the program is voluntary and that the samples collected from arriving international travelers are anonymous. However, the agency’s testing program does not rely solely on volunteers’ nasal swabs to track viruses. The agency also announced plans to expand its airplane wastewater sampling program.
Last year, the agency launched a pilot program to track infectious diseases by testing airplane wastewater. The CDC stated it is “currently expanding from a pilot phase to broader implementation.” Additionally, the CDC has been testing wastewater samples at SFO since April. It noted that the samples were collected from multiple flights but not from airport terminal waste. According to the CDC’s website, the agency currently collects wastewater samples from seven U.S. airports.
The program provides “early detection of flu, RSV, and select other respiratory viruses, in addition to SARS-CoV-2.” Over 370,000 travelers have agreed to participate in the program as of October. The CDC reported that Ginkgo Bioworks and XpresCheck will implement the program. Positive results will be uploaded to public databases and shared with health officials and lawmakers, it noted.
Ginkgo Bioworks stated that the program will be able to test for “more than 30 additional priority pathogens.” “With air travel exceeding pre-pandemic levels and the ongoing spread of COVID-19 and other viruses, it is crucial that we continue to test,” XpresCheck CEO Ezra Ernst said. “The data that we collect provides crucial insights for public health officials to inform how best to protect our nation from the threat of evolving viruses. We thank the volunteers who elect to swab their noses in service to our national security and public health.”
Dr. Cindy Friedman, chief of CDC’s Travelers’ Health Branch, stated, “The expansion of the Traveler-based Genomic Surveillance program to flu, RSV, and other pathogens is essential as we head into fall respiratory season. The TGS program, which began during the COVID-19 pandemic, acted as an early warning system to detect new and rare variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and will do the same for other respiratory viruses going forward.”
The CDC’s expansion of airport surveillance, under the guise of protecting public health, raises serious concerns about privacy and government overreach. While the program claims to be voluntary and anonymous, the potential for abuse cannot be ignored. Expanding the program to test airplane wastewater further erodes individual privacy. This Orwellian push for increased surveillance, in partnership with private companies, sets a dangerous precedent. As Americans, we must question the balance between public health and personal liberty, lest we find ourselves in a surveillance state where our every move is monitored.
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