Americans returning from China landed at U.S. airports by the thousands in early February, potential carriers of a deadly virus who had been diverted to a handful of cities for screening by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Their arrival prompted a frantic scramble by local and state officials to press the travelers to self-quarantine, and to monitor whether anyone fell ill. It was one of the earliest tests of whether the public health system in the United States could contain the contagion.
But the effort was frustrated as the C.D.C.’s decades-old notification system delivered information collected at the airports that was riddled with duplicative records, bad phone numbers and incomplete addresses. For weeks, officials tried to track passengers using lists sent by the C.D.C., scouring information about each flight in separate spreadsheets.
“It was insane,” said Dr. Sharon Balter, a director at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. When the system went offline in mid-February, briefly halting the flow of passenger data, local officials listened in disbelief on a conference call as the C.D.C. responded to the possibility that infected travelers might slip away.
“Just let them go,” two of the health officials recall being told.
Here is the full NYT piece, thorough, excellent, and scary throughout, and it shows a first-rate understanding of bureaucracy. Don’t forget the CDC budget has risen steadily in real terms.