Long lines were reported Sunday morning at Los Angeles International Airport, which has been designated as one of 13 airports that is screening Americans and their immediate families returning from a list of restricted countries for the coronavirus.
Similar bottlenecks were also noted late Saturday and early Sunday at other U.S. airports, most notably at Dallas Fort Worth Airport and Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, which prompted Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker to tweet that “The federal government needs to get its s@#t together. NOW.”
LAX, which had been largely deserted for most of Saturday, was later jammed with travelers waiting to be screened while trying to beat new flight restrictions from 26 European countries.
“I waited in a long, sweaty line at LAX today with people queued up on the other side of a *rope* who were waiting for CDC (Centers for Disease Control) testing, some obviously not feeling well. Total mess,” one traveler posted on Twitter with photos of long lines from several U.S. airports.
“This is unreal,” traveler Jazmine Contreras tweeted. “I was thinking to myself, I hope I don’t get coronavirus while waiting in the usually long lines for customs at LAX.”
A CDC official later acknowledged the delays and promised they would eventually subside.
“At this time, we are working quickly with our partners to operationalize a plan which will outline where these travelers will be routed and what the screening process will be,” Marcus Hubbard, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the New York Times.
Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of Homeland Security, said on Twitter that he was aware of the delays and was working to add staffing, the Times reported.
The new screening procedures were announced Friday.
“Flights departing after 11:59 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Friday, March 13, 2020, and covered by the arrival restrictions regarding the countries of the Schengen Area are required to land at one of the airports identified in this document,” according to a federal directive issued late Friday by the DHS. “These arrival restrictions will continue until cancelled or modified by the Secretary of DHS.”
The countries in the Schengen Area are Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
Other factors have also impacted the ebb and flow of operations at LAX.
The Central Terminal Area has been closed to the public every day between midnight and 5 a.m. to allow cleaning crews to perform maintenance; however, officials said this action is not a response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The nighttime closure policy has been in the works since well before the COVID-19 virus was discovered, LAX officials said, and although the closures are not a response to the virus, they will allow crews to better access all “high-contact” areas and restrooms for cleaning and sanitizing.
LAX officials say they’re taking the following measures to protect against the spread of coronavirus:
— installing more than 250 additional hand sanitizer stations throughout terminals;
— cleaning public areas and restrooms at least once per hour using virus and bacteria-killing disinfectants;
— increasing deep cleaning throughout the airport, focusing on “high touch” areas like handrails, escalators, elevator buttons and restroom doors;
— coordinating with contractors to ensure that their cleaning crews are following the same protocols;
— adding signage to high-traffic areas, including areas with passengers, with information on how to reduce the spread of illness and symptoms of the coronavirus;
— disinfecting and cleaning LAX Shuttle fleet at minimum three times per day.