Starting at midnight Friday, the Trump administration will begin enforcing new travel restrictions on much of Europe, barring most foreign nationals and screening all Americans arriving from countries identified as hot spots for the COVID-19 virus.
The action comes two days after the World Health Organization declared the virus a global “pandemic” and has overwhelmed the health care systems of Italy and China.
President Donald Trump announced the move just Wednesday in an Oval Office address in which he largely overstated the true impact of his own travel restrictions. The White House order that followed outlined several categories of travelers exempt from the ban, including U.S. citizens, their close relatives, and green card holders.
Those allowed to enter the country will be directed to 13 airports where healthcare workers are stationed to conduct basic medical exams and ask questions about medical history, symptoms and travel history. Anyone allowed to proceed to their final destination will be instructed to self-quarantine.
The mixed messages from the White House earlier in the week failed to calm concerns over the government’s preparedness to deal with the crisis and prompted resounding criticism from congressional Democrats tasked with government oversight.
“Such poor communication only increases the confusion and anxiety that Americans are already experiencing,” House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson wrote this week in an open letter to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf.
The restrictions do not directly apply to commercial trade, as the president initially said. The White House later clarified that cargo shipments would not be banned.
Homeland Security has named 11 major U.S. airports to act as processing hubs for passengers coming from restricted countries. European arrivals will be screened through those airports, plus Boston and Miami, which were added to the list.
All arriving passengers who've traveled to the restricted European countries within 14 days, and are exempt from the outright ban on travel, will be referred to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It remains unclear whether those referred to CDC at airports will be given a COVID-19 test. The CDC has not responded to multiple requests for comment on airport screenings. At last check, CBP had referred more than 63,000 travelers from Iran and China for CDC "enhanced health screenings."
Customs checks will stay relatively unchanged for travelers arriving from places other than the 28 countries identified in the White House orders, according to a Customs and Border Protection official handling virus response efforts.