More than 40,000 people flooded US airports in the weekend after Trump’s coronavirus travel ban, creating a host of public-health mistakes. Here they all are.
- Thousands of Americans were stuck in large crowds in US airports for hours after President Donald Trump announced a ban on travel from many European countries and the US.
- Photos showed people standing shoulder to shoulder, while others had to wait for up to seven hours to be screened.
- Travellers said people with symptoms or diagnoses were not properly separated, workers did not appear to have protective gear, people in the queue were sharing objects, and healthcare workers used incorrect terms such as “China flu.”
- Health experts and state politicians have criticized the crowding and said it could help the virus spread.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Thousands of Americans flooded US airports over the weekend after President Donald Trump abruptly announced a ban on travel from European countries in a bid to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The ban — which came into effect on Friday night for 26 European countries, and will do so for the UK and Ireland on Monday at midnight — does not stop US citizens and some other groups from entering the country from Europe.
As an increasing number of European countries went into lockdown, and airlines issued warnings of reduced flights, many Americans rushed to fly home, in some cases paying up to $20,000 to travel.
But once they reached the US, they faced long lines and densely packed crowed as they waited for hours to go through customs and get health screenings.
This was among the many public-health issues on display as health authorities advise people to stay far apart to stop the spread of the virus that has now killed over 6,500 people and infected more than 169,000 worldwide.
Jeremy Konyndyk, a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development, tweeted in response: “Good God. You could hardly invent a better scenario for superspreading events.”
Some travellers said they waited up to seven hours to get screened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention upon arrival to the US.
—Brooke Geiger McDonald (@BrookeGMcDonald) March 15, 2020
Some people were waiting for as long as seven hours at Chicago’s O’Hare on Saturday night, The New York Times reported.
One passenger, Katherine Rogers, told CNN that she was traveling through O’Hare on Saturday and, five hours into her wait to get screened, she was told she would still have to wait for an hour.
“No one seems prepared,” she told CNN. “To take us off planes from all over the world and put us together for hours seems counterproductive.”
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker criticized the federal government for the delays and crowding, tweeting on Saturday that “the federal government needs to get its s@#t together.”
—Katy Loves Soil (@katyslittlefarm) March 15, 2020
“To the frustrated people trying to get home, I have spoken with the mayor and our Senators and we are working together to get the federal government to act to solve this,” he tweeted.
“We will do everything within our power to get relief.”
The CDC also recommended on Sunday — after many travelers had already been through the airport — that all gatherings and events with at least 50 people be postponed.
“Large events and mass gatherings can contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in the United States via travelers who attend these events and introduce the virus to new communities,” the CDC said.
It gave examples of events like conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, and weddings, but said the guidance does not apply to places like schools, institutes of higher learning, or businesses.
“Events of any size should only be continued if they can be carried out with adherence to guidelines for protecting vulnerable populations, hand hygiene, and social distancing. When feasible, organizers could modify events to be virtual,” the CDC said.
Some 40,000 people had come to the US from Europe on Saturday alone, acting Homeland Security secretary Chad Wolf said.
Source: The Washington Post
Wolf added that the wait times were “unacceptable,” and claimed the situation had improved as of Sunday.
He said the situation had improved as of Sunday, with the average wait time in 13 airports dropping to 30 minutes, according to The Washington Post.
It is not clear whether more efficient plans were put in place or if the number passengers returning had fallen since the announcement of the ban.
The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.
One passenger traveling through Washington Dulles International Airport said many people were coughing and sneezing in the crowds, and that there was no separation between people who had been diagnosed with the virus.
In an opinion published in The Washington Post, Cheryl Benard wrote: “There was no attempt to enable social distancing; we were packed closely together. Two giant queues of people — one for US citizens and green-card holders and one for foreign nationals — wound their way through the cavernous hall.”
“I counted and came up with approximately 450 people in each section, for a total of just under a thousand. Many were coughing, sneezing and looking unwell.”
Experts believe the virus is mostly spread from person to person, “between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet)” and “through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes,” the CDC said.
“These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs,” it added.
Another passenger said he was able to get through Dulles quickly with his family after saying they had not been to any of the countries on Trump’s travel ban, even though lots of people on his flight had.
—Micheal B. H. (@BeezyBaby20) March 15, 2020
Mike McGowan, who flew from London, told The Post that many people on his flight had come from other parts of Europe on which Trump had imposed a travel ban and where coronavirus cases were high.
Multiple passengers traveling through American airports said officials were not wearing masks or visibly using sanitizer — and said their health forms were not looked at.
—James Millward 米華健 (@JimMillward) March 16, 2020
Sanitizer could help stop the virus from spreading to agents if they touch an infected object.
The CDC says that “a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth.”
The CDC has also said that people do not need to wear masks unless they are sick, and that masks should be prioritized for caregivers.
James Millward, a history professor at Georgetown University, tweeted on Sunday night: “NO screening of passengers from Europe this evening at Dulles tonight, apparently. I guess keeping hundreds of us packed together for two hours last night was just for show. TSA didn’t even collect med forms passengers had filled out.”
He also said that he was asked by a health worker if he had been exposed to someone with the “China flu.”
—James Millward 米華健 (@JimMillward) March 15, 2020
Trump and some Republicans have been criticized for calling the coronavirus — which causes the COVID-19 illness — names such as the “China flu.”
While the virus originated in China, there are now more cases in the rest of the world than in that country.