🔺 Passengers at Newark Airport will be subject to increased screening

🔺 The CDC is testing for COVID and other respiratory illnesses

🔺 Do travelers have to comply?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expanding passenger testing to include COVID-19 as well as the flu virus and respiratory synctial virus (RSV).

International air travelers arriving at Newark Liberty International airport as well as six other U.S. airports will be given nasal swabs to test for respiratory diseases.

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"Our focus is always on airports that are international hubs and have flights coming in from a broad array of international locations so we can get a picture of what's going on globally and detect concerning strains early," said Cindy Friedman Chief of CDC's Travelers' Health Branch.

Before now, the focus has always been on COVID and potentially dangerous new variants. The new policy is a reflection of growing concern over other respiratory viruses, especially RSV.

Travelers at Newark Liberty International Airport
Travelers at Newark Liberty International Airport. (Joe Raedle, Getty Images)

For now, the testing is voluntary. About 6,000 nasal swabs are currently be collected weekly. Of those, about 2,00 samples are tested for respiratory viruses.

In addition to nasal swabbing, the CDC is also collecting wastewater from random international flights. The water is also tested for the presence of any disease.

The program is officially called the Traveler-based Genomic Surveillance program (TGS).

Port Authority no mask fines start (Newark Liberty Airport via Twitter)
(Newark Liberty Airport via Twitter)

Friedman says it began during the pandemic and "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 credits TGS with the early detection of the COVID BA.2.86 variant entering the United States within days of its global identification. As the infected traveler had originated travel in Japan, this finding also informed the public health community that the new variant had also spread to Asia.

In addition to Newark, the other U.S. airports that are participating in TGS are: Los Angeles, New York's John F. Kennedy, San Francisco, Boston Logan, and Washington Dulles.

attachment-Newark Airport facts

The CDC says the program will run "for several months," but did not set a firm time-table.

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