Chaos gripped major US airports Sunday as Americans returning from coronavirus-hit European countries overwhelmed authorities attempting to process the surge.
Frustrated passengers complained of hours-long lines, crowded and unsanitary conditions and general disarray in the system for screening people for symptoms of the virus.
“Very close quarters,” Ann Lewis Schmidt told CNN, describing conditions at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD). “So if we didn’t have the virus before, we have a great chance of getting it now!” Schmidt said.
US airports have been hit with a flood of Americans, many of them students, since restrictions on travel from Europe ordered by US President Donald Trump took effect at midnight Friday.
The United States on Saturday extended the ban on travel from Europe, South Korea and China to Britain and Ireland. Only US citizens and legal residents are being allowed in from those countries, and they are then supposed to self-quarantine for 14 days.
The airport bottlenecks were the latest evidence of continuing turbulence in the administration’s response to a pandemic that started in China in December and has since spread worldwide.
In the United States, nearly 60 people have died from the virus and nearly 3,000 have been infected, according to a running tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.
But the epidemic has outpaced the government’s capacity to measure its true scope through wide-scale testing as some countries, like South Korea, have managed, leading to fears of an accelerating surge of cases, as Italy has experienced.
“I think Americans should be prepared that they are going to have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing,” Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading expert on infectious diseases, told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“I think we should really be overly aggressive and get criticized for over-reacting,” said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Schools, museums, sports arenas and entertainment venues have closed in some states, but St. Patrick’s Day celebrations still filled bars and restaurants over the weekend, leading some local officials to consider more extensive shutdowns.
“We are certainly looking at that,” said Governor Mike DeWine of Ohio, speaking on “Meet the Press.”
Noting the lockdowns in Europe, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker said on the same show, “It’s something that we’re seriously looking at.”
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