Americans returning home hours-long lines at US airports

A ticket agent helps travelers arriving on a flight from Frankfurt, Germany before travel restrictions are enacted hours later on flights from Europe entering the U.S. because of concerns of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) at the Denver International Airport outside Denver, Colorado, U.S. March 13, 2020.

Jim Urquhart | Reuters

Thousands of Americans returning home faced cramped arrivals halls and hours-long waits for the Trump administration’s new coronavirus screenings at some of the busiest airports in the country, sparking some worry that it could further the spread of the virus.

Health officials have warned against large gatherings to help stem the spread of coronavirus, which has sickened more than 2,900 people in the United States, and the large crowds sparked worries that it could further increase the spread of the disease among travelers and the cities they were flying into. The spread of the virus led officials to cancel professional sports games and events like the St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York and the Boston Marathon, scheduled for next month.

Trump last week banned most Europeans from visiting the United States for 30 days in a bid to contain the virus. The unprecedented restrictions created chaos at European airports as Americans raced to get home before airlines canceled flights and European countries take their own drastic measures to fight the illness. 

Returning American citizens and permanent residents would face “enhanced entry screening where the passenger will be asked about their medical history, current condition, and asked for contact information for local health authorities,” the Department of Homeland Security said Friday.

Upon arrival in the U.S., however, some travelers waited more than four hours for screening.

“The crowds & lines O’Hare are unacceptable & need to be addressed immediately,” Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker tweeted. “@realDonaldTrump @VP since this is the only communication medium you pay attention to—you need to do something NOW. These crowds are waiting to get through customs which is under federal jurisdiction.”

Chad Wolf, acting secretary of Homeland Security tweeted: “I understand this is very stressful. 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.”

On Friday, the World Health Organization said Europe was now the new epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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