Coronavirus updates: Chaos at U.S. airports as screenings cause delays

As weary travelers returned to the U.S. amid coronavirus-related travel restrictions, they were greeted with packed, hourslong waits for required medical screenings at airports.

Posts on social media indicated passengers at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport waited upward of four hours in winding lines, eliciting criticism from elected Illinois officials. Governor J.B. Pritzker tweeted at President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, noting that the customs process is under federal jurisdiction and demanding they take action to address the crowds.

While U.S. citizens, green card holders and some others are allowed to return home, travelers from Europe are being funneled to one of 13 U.S. airports where they’re subject to health screenings and quarantine orders.

Acknowledging the long lines at those airports in tweets posted just after midnight, the Department of Homeland Security’s acting secretary said the screenings take about a minute per passenger.

“Right now we are working to add additional screening capacity and working with the airlines to expedite the process,” Chad Wolf tweeted. “I understand this is very stressful. In these unprecedented times, we ask for your patience.”

The dense crowds at the selected airports — among the busiest across the country — formed even as public health officials call for “social distancing” to stem the spread of the virus. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide topped 156,000 by Sunday morning, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 5,800 people have died, and nearly 74,000 have recovered.

In this photo provided by Austin Boschen, people wait in line to go through the customs at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport in Grapevine, Texas, Saturday, March 14, 2020. Austin Boschen / AP

Mr. Trump announced at a press conference Saturday that he himself took a coronavirus test, and his physician announced later Saturday that the president tested negative. Pence also said the European travel ban is being extended to Ireland and the U.K., effective at midnight on Monday.

Travelers from restricted countries in Europe, China and Iran are being advised to self-quarantine for 14 days after reaching their final destination in the U.S.

“If you don’t have to travel, I wouldn’t do it,” Mr. Trump said.

Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for detailed information on coronavirus treatment and prevention.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Categories: US & World News