The first day of enhanced screenings for arriving airline travelers on international flights coming from Europe turned into chaos and mammoth lines at a series of major U.S. airports on Saturday night, as passengers were forced to wait in lines which packed people together in close quarters for hours on end.
"The federal government needs to get its s@#t together. NOW," the Governor of Illinois, J.B. Pritzker tweeted late on Saturday night, as pictures filtered out from O'Hare International, Dallas-Forth Worth, Dulles International, John F. Kennedy, and other airports of giant lines.
Top Trump Administration officials acknowledged the situation after midnight on Saturday night.
"I understand this is very stressful," tweeted Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, as officials put in place new medical screening requirements.
"Right now we are working to add additional screening capacity and working with the airlines to expedite the process," Wolf added.
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
Just landed at Dulles, returning from London and before that Spain. Got “selected” at passport control for CDC screening. Waited in another long line to come back into the inside of passport control. Now waiting in a huge line, apparently to have temp taken. pic.twitter.com/1WOSCne3rN— James Millward 米華健 (@JimMillward) March 14, 2020
Democrats denounced the lines as a major failure brought on by a travel policy which was thrown together at the last minute by the Trump Administration.
"Unprepared for travel ban they implemented," said Rep. Nanette Barragan (D-CA). "Poor planning for screenings of Americans returning from Europe meant huge crowds in tight spaces at airports-putting travelers at great risk."
"Administration clearly operating without consistent and clear guidelines," said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL).
"This is unacceptable, counterproductive and exactly the opposite of what we need to do to prevent the spread of #COVID19," tweeted Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).
According to @DHS_Wolf “it currently takes ~60 seconds for medical professionals to screen each passenger.”— Rep. Veronica Escobar (@RepEscobar) March 15, 2020
Obviously that’s not true.@realDonaldTrump — we need a plan of action from your @DHS leadership ASAP! https://t.co/yiJdB4T8G5
It was not immediately clear how many people were ultimately denied entry to the U.S., or what would happen to American citizens who might have shown a fever in airport temperature checks.
The chaotic scenes at airports came as President Trump was preparing to expand travel restrictions on Europe to include the United Kingdom and Ireland, which were left out of his original declaration on Wednesday.