(AP/Gray News) - The Department of Homeland Security is asking travelers to be patient at U.S. airports where travelers from Europe are being funneled during the coronavirus pandemic.
Acting Secretary Chad Wolf tweeted Sunday that the government is working to add virus screening capacity and is working with airlines.
He says screenings take about a minute per passenger.
Huge lines and hourslong waits for the required medical screenings formed even as health officials called for “social distancing” to stem the spread of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, United Airlines says it will cut flight capacity by half in April and May, expects the cuts to extend to summer travel.
The U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert says that the crowds could spread the coronavirus but that they are likely to continue.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, with the National Institutes of Health, said on ABC’s “This Week” that the idea of domestic travel restrictions have come up during administration deliberations but such action is unlikely “right now or in the immediate future.”
Fauci’s comments come a day after President Donald Trump told reporters that he was considering imposing restrictions on travel within the U.S. to areas hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
One traveler described the scene at the Dallas-Forth Worth airport as “atrocious."
American citizens, green card holders and some others are allowed to return to the U.S. amid new European travel restrictions.
Massive lines formed at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport for passengers flying back from international locations.
Passengers were in line for up to eight hours Saturday while waiting for enhanced coronavirus screening measures. On Twitter, the airport informed travelers that customs processing was “taking longer than usual” because of these measures.
Pictures on social media showed large crowds waiting in close proximity to each other. Some passengers and their family members are worried such lines may have exposed them to COVID-19, WGN reports.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker tweeted at President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence Saturday night, saying the crowds were “unacceptable and needed to be addressed immediately.”
“The federal government needs to get its s@#t together. NOW,” he wrote in another tweet.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-IL, said on Twitter he had been in contact with Pritzker about the situation, which saw passengers spending “up to eight hours waiting for luggage, immigration, customs, & possible medical screening.”
He blamed the delays on staff being “unprepared” for the European travel ban.
Durbin also noted that some passengers reported they had gone through customs without being asked any questions.
The senator called for federal resources to be allocated to O’Hare and other airports screening returning travelers “to reduce wait times and help avoid having so many people in close proximity to each other.”
Travelers at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport reported similar difficulties and waits. The airport asked for patience in the matter.
The European travel ban, which went into effect Friday at midnight, bars foreign travelers from many European countries from entering the U.S. for 30 days. The White House announced Saturday that the ban would be expanded to include the United Kingdom and Ireland effective midnight on Monday.