Ciera Miller, Contributing Writer
On March 15, I flew into the capital of the United States from Paris, France. It was the second day of Coronavirus screenings in the U.S. The plane I was on taxied took an additional 45 minutes in its hanger to allow the airport time to accept us without accidentally infecting its other passengers. An elderly woman in her 70s with a chronic back condition begged the flight attendants to let her off because she couldn’t stand nor sit down without being in incredible pain; they told her there was nothing they could do to help her, she would have to sit and wait.
When my fellow passengers and I were finally allowed off the plane, we were separated from the inside of the airport. We followed a passageway whose windows looked into gates and terminals where passengers were waiting for their own flights to board. A little girl with a pacifier in her mouth waved at us as we walked by. Airport representatives wearing light blue gloves, some with masks over their mouths, gave us our customs papers and boarded us onto a shuttle that took us to the opposite side of the airport. There, we waited an additional ten minutes before we were allowed inside for the Coronavirus screening process.
Inside was an unsterilized room with two lines: one for those who were staying in Washington, D.C., and those who had connecting flights to other parts of the country. I joined the huddle of passengers with connecting flights, who were all squeezed together with their hands in their pockets to avoid touching others. The screening took an additional half an hour, 20 minutes of which consisted of waiting in the large huddle. The door was about 100 feet from the front of the group and moving slowly. When I finally caught a glance of the screening process, I saw ten representatives (probably healthcare workers and/or doctors) from the Center for Disease Control dressed head to toe in blue scrubs, mouths and noses masked, sitting at two tables intersected to make an ‘L’. When they were ready for a new passenger, they waved a small American flag.
When I was flagged over, I saw the representatives wore blue gloves as well. I handed mine the document which said I’d been in Schengen Province (also known as mainland Europe) for at least the last two weeks, I hadn’t had any symptoms (as observed by myself), and that my last stop was in Maine. He asked where I’d been while in Europe, if I’d recently been to Italy or Iran as both countries are highly infected, and if I’d had any symptoms. I told him I’d been studying about an hour outside of Paris, no I hadn’t been to Italy or Iran, and no I didn’t have any symptoms.
He didn’t take my temperature. He didn’t wait to see if I dry coughed. He didn’t check my lungs for signs of trouble breathing. He took my word for it that I didn’t have any symptoms, put a sticker on my customs card, and told me to tell the security guards by the shuttle back into the airport that I wasn’t infected. He gave me a packet telling me about self-quarantine and what steps I should take since I’ve been in an infected country and waved the stars and stripes for someone else to move forward.
All of it took less than five minutes. The screening was a joke. I could’ve lied. I could’ve been ignorant of having symptoms. I could’ve spread the Coronavirus to the capital of the United States. The doctor wouldn’t have known because he just took my word for it without testing me for a positive or negative result. This is what was happening in American airports across the country for the first week of the country’s national emergency, and it might still be happening now. Though I hope that the screening has gotten far better, for the sake of other American citizens.
I have been self-quarantining for the last two weeks for the sake of others because COVID-19 can develop between 2-14 days from exposure, and if I do have the Coronavirus, I don’t want to accidentally spread it. After my quarantine is up, I plan to practice social distancing like the rest of the country to keep myself, my family and friends, and the rest of the country safe. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) suggests the same.