CHICAGO — Concerns are growing about the lack of safety measures at Chicago O’Hare International Airport in light of COVID-19.
A local woman, who wants to remain anonymous, traveled through the international terminal Monday with her family. The family had spent the last six months traveling through southeast Asia.
She said O’Hare was business as usual Monday and that the only difference was a lack of people.
“It was as if the pandemic was nonexistent in Illinois,” she said.
In January, while traveling, they noticed an increase in the concern surrounding coronavirus.
“We went to some areas in Vietnam where we were literally the only people in the hotel,” she said. “And business were closed and ghost towns. It was very apocalyptic feeling.”
The family of five took their precautions. They used hand sanitizer, wore masks and stayed away from crowded places. But they continued their travels.
“We were taking it in stride only because we had mixed signals from family and friends at home,” she said. “Some people said, ‘It’s total chaos here. There’s nothing in grocery stores. You can’t find toilet paper.’ Why would you rush back?”
But Indonesia started to shut down last week and as resources were dwindling, the family decided it was time to come home.
“We left from Bali,” she said. “They had screeners screening you as you walked up to the steps of the airport. (They were) checking your temperature. They were all masked and had gloves and took it very seriously.”
They had the same experience in Tokyo, but there was a stark contrast upon landing at O’Hare.
“No questions about where we had been, zero hand sanitizer, zero masks, no spacing in lines in customs. And none of the employees had any masks or protection,” she said.
The woman told WGN News safety measures were non-existent, and it made it hard to believe the U.S. is the epicenter of a global pandemic.
She said she questioned her decision to come home.
“The temperament at O’Hare was that its business as usual,” she said. “So why did we race home? We could be safe where we were in a third world country and things were taken much more seriously.”
Chicago Department of Aviation issued the following statement:
The health and wellness of all travelers passing through our airports remains the top priority of the Chicago Department of Aviation. Travel and health screenings for arriving international passengers at any U.S. airport fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government, and O’Hare International Airport has had a robust screening system in place since beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Any questions about the screening process should be directed there.” – Chicago Department of Aviation
U.S. Customs and Border Control sent WGN News the following statement:
On March 11, the President issued a proclamation that built on the travel restrictions for China and Iran that temporarily restricts travel between certain European countries and the United States to protect Americans from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). On March 13, the U.S. Government suspended the entry into the United States of certain foreign nationals who were physically present in Europe’s 26-country Schengen Area during the 14 days preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States. On March 16, the travel restrictions expanded to include foreign nationals who were present in Ireland or the United Kingdom in the 14 days preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States.
These travel restrictions do not apply to U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents and certain other travelers. Flights carrying persons who have recently traveled from or who were otherwise present within Ireland, the United Kingdom or the Schengen Area will be funneled to 13 U.S. airports.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is prepared to support the full and expeditious implementation of the new travel restrictions. Upon arrival to the United States, travelers who have been within Ireland, the United Kingdom or the Schengen Area within the last fourteen days will proceed to CBP primary inspection. CBP will refer the travelers to Department of Homeland Security contract medical personnel, who will conduct a health assessment and determine whether the traveler should be referred to the CDC for enhanced health screening. After evaluation, travelers will be given written information about COVID-19 and will be directed to proceed in accordance with CDC guidelines. Similar, successful measures have already been implemented for travelers who were recently present in China and Iran.
CBP’s highest priority is to ensure the health, safety and security of the American people. Our dedicated agents and officers remain vigilant at and between ports of entry and will continue to identify and refer individuals with symptoms of COVID-19 to the CDC or local health authorities for enhanced health screening.
Additionally, the CDC is responsible for the enhanced health screening of travelers in all locations. CBP is working with the CDC to identify arriving travelers who have been in mainland China, Iran, Ireland, the United Kingdom or the Schengen Area within the previous 14 days, as they require enhanced health screening. Those travelers are identified by CBP officers during their primary inspection and are referred for secondary screening where DHS contract medical personnel conduct a health assessment. The DHS contract screeners will determine whether to refer travelers to on-site CDC personnel to conduct the enhanced health screening. CDC makes any determination from there as to whether additional measures must be taken. CBP officers use a combination of traveler history records, officer questioning and observation, and self-declarations to identify individuals requiring enhanced health screening.”