Liz Hoyer, a 46-year-old teacher in Texas, was waiting anxiously across the country Saturday night as her parents — both in their 70s — waded through the thick crowd at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.
President Trump had announced a ban on travel from most of Europe while the couple was still in the air on their way to Germany. They booked the earliest flight they could back to O’Hare, one of the only U.S. airports still accepting European flights.
Now they were caught up in the hours-long waits at airports around the country hit by the Trump administration’s new screening requirements for people returning from much of the continent. The president announced the new rules — which kicked in Friday at midnight — as a dramatic new measure to combat the coronavirus pandemic, but Hoyer worried that the clogged situation at O’Hare is only making the spread of the virus more likely.
There’s no getting away from the other people — and the risk of infection, she said.
“The last thing Mom texted me, a few minutes ago,” she said, “was that they were safer in Germany than they are in this crowd.”
Trump’s Wednesday night announcement about the travel ban quickly sent European airports into chaos, even as officials clarified that it was far narrower than the president initially suggested. American citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families would still be allowed to fly home.
On Saturday, social media filled with scenes of chaos at the 13 U.S. airports where authorities say all Americans flying home from Europe are now being routed. Photos captured clogged hallways and standing-room-only lines as airports apologized for the delays, attributing them to new screening measures.
People returning from Europe face “enhanced entry screening” with questions about their medical history, current condition and contact information to be given to local health authorities, according a Department of Homeland Security statement. Then, returnees can head to their final destination and quarantine at home.