Travelers entering the US from Europe waited for hours in long lines Saturday as new coronavirus screenings led to bottlenecks at major airports, the Washington Post reports. The Trump administration unveiled its new “enhanced entry screenings” on Friday, which route passengers on flights from 26 European countries through 13 US airports, including Chicago’s O’Hare and Dallas-Fort Worth.
The new screenings, which include an examination for symptoms and medical histories and instructions for self-quarantine — but not coronavirus tests — were meant to help slow the spread of the virus that has spread quickly across Europe.
But photos on social media showed hundreds of people waiting in close proximity to each other, which is contrary to the CDC recommendations for people to practice social distancing.
Passengers waited in line for hours at customs at @DFWAirport. Many concerned about being so close to others during the #COVIDー19 outbreak. The airport saying “CBP officers and the CDC are following federal guidelines to conduct enhanced screening for passengers” @FOX4 pic.twitter.com/4BFUEau0Hg— Steven Dial (@StevenDialFox4) March 15, 2020
This is the scene at O’Hare airport. The traveler who took the photo said it’s a 6-hour wait for bags then on to customs for 2-4 more of waiting in shoulder-to-shoulder crowds. Police are handing out water and disinfectant wipes. @fly2ohare #ord #coronavirus #COVID19 pic.twitter.com/UTx9E0nj1s— Brooke Geiger McDonald (@BrookeGMcDonald) March 15, 2020
The Twitter account for O’Hare International Airport in Chicago posted photos of local staff giving out water and snacks to people stuck in the long lines.
Chicago Department of Aviation staff is working hard to distribute snacks and bottled water to international arriving travelers waiting in longer-than-usual customs processing lines. Thank you for your patience. pic.twitter.com/982IaBeYCO— O'Hare Intl. Airport (@fly2ohare) March 15, 2020
President Trump acknowledged the airport delays in a tweet on Sunday, saying the US is “moving as quickly as possible, but it is very important that we be vigilant and careful.”
We are doing very precise Medical Screenings at our airports. Pardon the interruptions and delays, we are moving as quickly as possible, but it is very important that we be vigilant and careful. We must get it right. Safety first!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 15, 2020
Chad Wolf, acting secretary of Homeland Security, tweeted that the agency was aware of the long lines and was working on adding additional screening capacity. “I understand this is very stressful,” Wolf tweeted. “In these unprecedented times, we ask for your patience. It currently takes ~60 seconds for medical professionals to screen each passenger. We will be increasing capacity but the health and safety of the American public is first & foremost.”
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker tweeted “the federal government needs to get its s@#t together. NOW,” and criticized the Trump administration for the situation. “The crowds & lines O’Hare are unacceptable & need to be addressed immediately,” he said.
Update March 15th, 12:55 PM ET: Added comment from President Trump