By J. Taylor Basker
Two of my friends returned recently from countries embattled in the fight against the Coronavirus, but there was no health check of any sort when they got off their planes at Newark Airport. One was returning with his wife from a Fulbright in Israel, which has a large outbreak of Coronavirus due to the refusal of many in the Ultra-Orthodox communities to follow safe guidelines. Their plane flying from Tel Aviv was full of Hasidim, whose communities have high infection levels. He was shocked that there was no health check of any sort, no questions asked, no temperatures taken as they deplaned. Everyone just went through customs as usual, got their luggage and left.
Another friend flew in from Paris, which also is experiencing a large outbreak. His plane was packed because Trump had announced he was restricting all flights from Europe. Immediately there was much hysteria with Americans desperate to get home. When he first arrived at the airport the plane had few passengers, but suddenly it became full of people paying outrageously high prices for tickets. Upon arrival in the US there was no health check of any sort. He also was shocked. The travel ban never materialized and there was great confusion over Trump’s conflicting policies. However, the Coronavirus got a free ride and easy entry. Many airport workers have fallen ill; some have died. We will never know how many travelers carried more of the virus to us than we had.
NPR reported as far back as March 1 that airport workers in the US were fearful and not adequately protected from the virus. If they complained they could lose their jobs. The FAA has been slow to respond, meanwhile airport workers have died. The Federal Government tried to set procedures in place in March to screen people entering the US., however some of the CDC screeners became infected since they were not provided with N95 masks but only with regular masks for protection.
Complaints about the long lines seem to have influenced the government to drop screening. There appears to be no national policy in place. This is another egregious and dangerous example of the inept leadership in Washington. Greenwich Village has many residents who must travel abroad for important reasons despite the pandemic. Unfortunately due to lack of careful policies at airports, they can risk infection just picking up their luggage.