Air­port log­jams go against virus ad­vice

The Kansas City Star - - Front Page - BY TERRY SPENCER AND MALLIKA SEN

Harsh crit­i­cism rained on the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion Sun­day from state and lo­cal of­fi­cials over long lines of re­turn­ing in­ter­na­tional pas­sen­gers at some U.S. air­ports that could have turned them into coro­n­avirus car­ri­ers as they tried to get home.

Illi­nois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Light­foot lam­basted the ad­min­is­tra­tion for al­low­ing about 3,000 Amer­i­cans re­turn­ing from Europe to be stuck for hours inside the cus­toms area at O’Hare In­ter­na­tional Air­port on Satur­day, vi­o­lat­ing fed­eral rec­om­men­da­tions from the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion that peo­ple prac­tice “so­cial dis­tance.”

The pas­sen­gers, many of them rush­ing home be­cause of fears they would be stuck in Europe, were screened by fed­eral cus­toms and Home­land Se­cu­rity agents for coro­n­avirus symp­toms be­fore they were al­lowed to leave the air­port.

Long lines also formed Satur­day in Bos­ton, Dal­las and oth­ers of the 13 air­ports that are ac­cept­ing re­turn flights from Europe. Con­di­tions were bet­ter Sun­day, but lines could again grow as the day pro­gresses and more flights ar­rive.

“Peo­ple were forced into con­di­tions that are against CDC guid­ance and are to­tally un­ac­cept­able,” Light­foot said.

Light­foot sin­gled out Vice

Pres­i­dent Mike Pence and his coro­n­avirus task force for not talk­ing with lo­cal of­fi­cials be­fore im­ple­ment­ing the screen­ing pro­gram. State and lo­cal of­fi­cials could have of­fered “con­crete sug­ges­tions” for how the pro­gram could have been im­ple­mented with the least disruption, she said, but the ad­min­is­tra­tion acted uni­lat­er­ally.

“Thou­sands of trav­el­ers were forced to wait in ex­ceed­ingly long lines, con­gre­gat­ing in con­courses and putting them­selves and their loved ones at greater risk of ex­po­sure,” Light­foot said. Pas­sen­gers Sun­day will likely be kept on their planes to man­age the flow into the cus­toms area, she said.

Texas Gov. Greg Ab­bott, a strong sup­porter of the pres­i­dent, tweeted Sun­day that the lines in Dal­las are “un­ac­cept­able & I’m work­ing hard to get it fixed.” He said he had con­tacted the head of Home­land Se­cu­rity, act­ing Sec­re­tary Chad Wolf.

Not ev­ery U.S. air­port ac­cept­ing Euro­pean ar­rivals ex­pe­ri­enced over­crowd­ing. Air­ports serv­ing Mi­ami, Seat­tle, Los An­ge­les and Ne­wark, New Jer­sey, re­ported short lines at cus­toms Satur­day and Sun­day.

Pritzker said Sun­day on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the ad­min­is­tra­tion should have bol­stered staffing at the re­ceiv­ing air­ports in ex­pec­ta­tion of long lines. But in­stead, he said, pas­sen­gers “were stuck in a small area, hun­dreds and hun­dreds of peo­ple, and that’s ex­actly what you don’t want in this pan­demic.”

He pre­dicted Sun­day would “be even worse.”

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump de­fended the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ac­tions in a tweet Sun­day.

“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!” he wrote.

Act­ing Cus­toms and Bor­der Pa­trol Com­mis­sioner Mark Mor­gan said in a writ­ten state­ment

Sun­day that the agency is mak­ing im­prove­ments to its pro­ce­dures, but that it must “bal­ance our ef­fi­cien­cies with en­sur­ing the health and safety of all Amer­i­can cit­i­zens through en­hanced med­i­cal screen­ing.”

Katy Rogers spent four hours Satur­day at O’Hare in a tightly packed space with stu­dents, a bas­ket­ball team, mu­si­cians and older peo­ple in wheel­chairs.

“Ev­ery­body was ner­vous about it,” she said Sun­day. “Ev­ery­one work­ing there was con­fused and frus­trated, and their hands were tied, too.”

Even though she showed no signs of be­ing sick, she now plans to quar­an­tine her­self on the or­ganic pro­duce farm she runs in Noblesvill­e, In­di­ana.

El­iz­a­beth Pul­ver­ma­cher, a Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin stu­dent, ar­rived Satur­day at O’Hare from Madrid, where she had been study­ing. The cus­toms process made her feel “un­safe,” she said.

“The whole idea is get­ting rid of the spread of coro­n­avirus, but there were hun­dreds and hun­dreds of peo­ple in very close prox­im­ity,” Pul­ver­ma­cher said.

Dr. An­thony Fauci, the gov­ern­ment’s top in­fec­tious dis­ease ex­pert, said on “Fox News Sun­day” that the air­port crowds could spread the dis­ease, but that they are likely to con­tinue. Amer­i­cans must un­der­stand that there is no need to rush back from Europe, he said, but “when peo­ple see a travel ban, they im­me­di­ately want to hun­ker and get home.”

“Hope­fully we don’t have more of that, but I think we prob­a­bly un­for­tu­nately will,” he said.

The Dal­las-Fort Worth Air­port’s Twit­ter ac­count re­sponded to pas­sen­gers who raised con­cerns about the cramped con­di­tions, say­ing that its cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence team was tak­ing “ex­tra pre­cau­tions” and that hand san­i­tizer was avail­able in all ter­mi­nals.

For most peo­ple, the new coro­n­avirus causes only mild or mod­er­ate symp­toms, such as fever and cough. For some, es­pe­cially older adults and peo­ple with ex­ist­ing health prob­lems, it can cause more se­vere ill­ness, in­clud­ing pneu­mo­nia. The vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple re­cover.

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.

The world­wide out­break has sick­ened more than 156,000 peo­ple and left more than 5,800 dead, with thou­sands of new cases con­firmed each day. The death toll in the United States climbed to 61, while in­fec­tions neared 3,000.

STATES TAK­ING AC­TION

Illi­nois’ Pritzker on

Sun­day or­dered all bars and restau­rants in his state to close amid the threat of the new coro­n­avirus, and of­fi­cials else­where in the coun­try said they were con­sid­er­ing sim­i­lar re­stric­tions af­ter rev­el­ers ig­nored warn­ings against at­tend­ing large gath­er­ings.

“The time for per­sua­sion and pub­lic ap­peals is over,” Pritzker said. “This is not a joke. No one is im­mune to this.”

The gov­er­nor said he had tried ear­lier this week to ap­peal to ev­ery­one’s good judg­ment to stay home, to avoid bars and not con­gre­gate in crowds. He added that it is un­for­tu­nate that many peo­ple didn’t take that se­ri­ously.

The or­der takes ef­fect Mon­day night and will last through March 30.

New York City said it

● will close the na­tion’s largest pub­lic school sys­tem on Mon­day, send­ing over 1.1 mil­lion chil­dren home in hopes of curb­ing the spread of coro­n­avirus, the city’s mayor an­nounced Sun­day, call­ing it a “very trou­bling mo­ment.”

A somber Mayor Bill de Bla­sio an­nounced the de­ci­sion to close schools through at least April 20 and pos­si­bly for the school year, fol­low­ing a grow­ing num­ber of school clo­sures in com­mu­ni­ties and en­tire states na­tion­wide and mount­ing pres­sure in New York from res­i­dents, City Coun­cil mem­bers and oth­ers.

Cal­i­for­nia Gov. Gavin ●

New­som asked Cal­i­for­ni­ans over the age of 65 on Sun­day to iso­late them­selves from oth­ers and told neigh­bor­hood bars and pubs to close their doors as the num­ber of con­firmed coro­n­avirus cases in the state con­tin­ued to rise.

New­som did not, though, man­date the clo­sure of all restau­rants in the state.

The gov­er­nor said he would is­sue ad­di­tional di­rec­tives on Tues­day to schools that re­main open and said he was es­pe­cially fo­cused on pro­vid­ing sup­port to low-in­come fam­i­lies.

AUSTIN BOSCHEN Photo pro­vided to AP

Peo­ple wait to go through Cus­toms at Dal­las Fort Worth In­ter­na­tional Air­port on Satur­day. Austin Boschen said it took him at least four hours to go through Cus­toms. The in­tense crowd­ing put peo­ple into con­di­tions that go against CDC guid­ance dur­ing the coro­n­avirus out­break.

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