President Donald Trump frequently brings up the travel bans he imposed on foreign nationals from flying into the United States from China and Europe as proof that his response to coronavirus was serious and effective.
But on Saturday, a Washington Post report detailed how Trump’s “last-ditch” European travel ban actually resulted in a new “infusion” of infected people into the United States.
The problem, wrote Greg Miller, Josh Dawsey, and Aaron Davis, was that Trump’s announcement triggered a wave of panicked Americans returning home all at once from countries with severe outbreaks — and left them crammed tightly together in long lines at airport customs checkpoints, with no ability to practice social distancing.
The article cited the case of Jack Seibert, an American college student in Spain experiencing COVID-19 symptoms whose parents decided to fly him home quickly out of fear that the president’s order would exclude him if he waited — even though the order exempted U.S. citizens.
“Siebert arrived at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago three days later as the new U.S. restrictions — including mandatory medical screenings — went into effect,” said the report. “He encountered crowds of people packed in tight corridors, stood in lines in which he snaked past other travelers for nearly five hours and tried to direct any cough or sneeze into his sleeve. When he finally reached the coronavirus checkpoint near baggage pickup, Siebert reported his prior symptoms and described his exposure in Spain. But the screeners waived him through with a cursory temperature check. He was given instructions to self-isolate that struck him as absurd given the conditions he had just encountered at the airport.” Two days later, his test results came back positive.
“I can guarantee you that people were infected … It was people passing through a pinhole,” Siebert said of the conditions at the customs checkpoint.
“The sequence was repeated at airports across the country that weekend. Harrowing scenes of interminable lines and unmasked faces crammed in confined spaces spread across social media,” said the report. “The images showed how a policy intended to block the pathogen’s entry into the United States instead delivered one final viral infusion. As those exposed travelers fanned out into U.S. cities and suburbs, they became part of an influx from Europe that went unchecked for weeks and helped to seal the country’s coronavirus fate.”
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