CHICAGO, March 16 ------ Officials across the country curtailed elements of American life to fight the coronavirus outbreak on Sunday, with governors closing restaurants, bars, and schools and a government expert saying a 14-day national shutdown may be needed. At the same time, long airport lines for virus screenings raised doubts that the government is prepared to respond to the crisis. Parts of America already looks like a ghost town, and others are about to follow as theme parks closed, Florida beaches shooed away spring breakers, Starbucks said it will accept only drive-thru and takeout orders and the governors of Ohio and Illinois ordered bars and restaurants shuttered. New York City, New Jersey and elsewhere are considering similar measures.
“The time for persuasion and public appeals is over,” Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said. “This is not a joke. No one is immune to this.” His decision came hours after Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious disease expert, said he would like to see a 14-day national shutdown imposed to prevent the virus’s spread. “I think Americans should be prepared that they are going to have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing,” said Fauci, a member of the White House task force on combating the spread of coronavirus. He heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.
There is no indication President Donald Trump is considering such a move. The worldwide outbreak has sickened more than 156,000 people and left more than 5,800 dead, with thousands of new cases confirmed each day. The death toll in the United States climbed to 64, while infections neared 3,000. Meanwhile, harsh criticism rained on Trump and his administration Sunday from state and local officials over long lines of returning international passengers at some U.S. airports that could have turned them into coronavirus carriers as they tried to get home.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot lambasted the administration for allowing about 3,000 Americans returning from Europe to be stuck for hours inside the customs area at O’Hare International Airport on Saturday, violating federal recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that people practice “social distancing.” The passengers, many of them rushing home because of fears they would be stuck in Europe, were screened by federal customs and homeland security agents for coronavirus symptoms before they were allowed to leave the airport.
Long lines also formed Saturday in Boston, Dallas and others of the 13 airports that are accepting return flights from Europe. “People were forced into conditions that are against CDC guidance and are totally unacceptable,” Lightfoot said. Conditions appeared better Sunday nationwide, though at O’Hare passengers were being kept on their planes to better manage the flow through customs.