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Antibody Test For COVID-19 Could Help To Control Virus Spread, Says Singapore Medtech Firm

Singapore’s Biolidics Limited is betting big on its COVID-19 rapid test kits after clearing regulatory hurdles from the health authorities in Singapore, the Philippines and the European Union.

The medtech company, which specializes in cancer treatment equipment and applications, has created a test kit that detects antibodies directed against the coronavirus that’s sweeping the world. Biolidics says the tests have an accuracy rate of 95% based on its clinical trial of 570 samples.

Instead of deep throat or nose swabs that are intrusive and typically require hours or even days before the results are known, Biolidics’ tests use blood samples and a small device that measures antibody response to the virus within 10 minutes.

The company cautions that their rapid test kit results should not be used as the sole basis for diagnosis or for confirmatory testing. The results need to be interpreted together with clinical examination and confirmed with supplemental testing. Meanwhile, Singapore’s Ministry of Health issued a document released to all registered medical practitioners on April 3 stating, “There is currently no role for COVID-19 serology rapid test kits in the diagnosis of COVID-19 infections.”

The Biolidics test checks the blood for antibodies and can identify who was previously infected and may have already developed immunity to the virus. To date, 1.5 million people worldwide have been infected by COVID-19, and 88,000 have died from the epidemic.

Shares of Biolidics have risen 29% since announcing it had received provisional authorization from Singapore’s Health Sciences Authority on March 30. The following day, the Department of Health in the Philippines authorized the use of the company’s rapid test kit for the detection of COVID-19. The EU gave its approval to market and sell the tests on April 3.

In the context of blood testing for antibodies, “the technologies are not new,” says Jeremy Yee, chairman of Biolidics. “It’s been around since 1961 and used as a tool for [testing] Ebola and other pandemics.” However, the publicly traded firm with a market cap of S$70 million ($49 million) has been quick to gain a leg up as one of the early movers.

The first batch of test kits are “on the plane from China to Singapore as we speak,” says Dr. Wang Qing-Yin, Biolidics chief operating officer and former principal scientist at the Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases.

Yee estimates commissioning roughly two million COVID-19 test kits in the next two months from Nanjing-based Vazyme Biotech, a Chinese producer of enzymes and antibodies. “In terms of production, we are only essentially limited by our capital,” he says of temporarily reallocating resources meant for its cancer business to fund production costs.

While revenue for Biolidics rose 13.4% to S$1.4 million in 2019 from a year ago mainly driven by its cancer detection systems, the company is still in the red. But Yee expects sales of the new test kits to provide a major boost to earnings this year.

In the meantime, Biolidics is working to gain approval to sell its infectious disease diagnostic kits in other countries in Asia, and with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Emergency Use Authorization.

Biolidics is a spin-off of Singapore’s publicly traded Clearbridge Health incorporated in 2009. In December 2018, the cancer diagnostics unit of Clearbridge listed on the SGX Catalist board as Biolidics, raising S$7.7 million representing 11.3% of the company. Clearbridge remains its biggest shareholder with a 24% stake followed by the government statutory board Enterprise Singapore under the Ministry of Trade and Industry, via its Seeds Capital fund holding a 11% stake. The company plans to expand into China and develop innovative diagnostic solutions to lower healthcare costs and improve clinical outcomes.

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Pamela covers entrepreneurs, wealth, blockchain and the crypto economy as a senior reporter across digital and print platforms. Prior to Forbes, she served as on-air foreign correspondent for Thomson Reuters’ broadcast team, during which she reported on global markets, central bank policies, and breaking business news. Before Asia, she was a journalist at NBC Comcast, and started her career at CNBC and Bloomberg as a financial news producer in New York. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School and holds an MBA from Thunderbird School of Global Management. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Yahoo, USA Today, Huffington Post, and Nasdaq. Pamela’s previous incarnation was on the buy side in M&A research and asset management, inspired by Michael Lewis’ book “Liar’s Poker”. Follow me on Twitter at @pamambler

Source: Antibody Test For COVID-19 Could Help To Control Virus Spread, Says Singapore Medtech Firm

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9 Future Predictions For A Post-Coronavirus World

As the ripple of COVID-19 careens around the globe, it’s forcing humankind to innovate and change the way we work and live. The upside of where we find ourselves right now is that individuals and corporations will be more resilient in a post-COVID-19 world. Here are nine predictions of what our world may look like once we have left the pandemic behind.

1.  More Contactless Interfaces and Interactions

There was a time not too long ago when we were impressed by touch screens and all they enabled us to do. COVID-19 has made most of us hyper-aware of every touchable surface that could transmit the disease, so in a post-COVID-19 world, it’s expected that we’ll have fewer touch screens and more voice interfaces and machine vision interfaces. Prior to the pandemic, we saw the rollout of contactless payment options through mobile devices. However, with the increase in people wanting to limit what they touch, an option to pay for goods and services that does not require any physical contact is likely to gain traction. Machine vision interfaces are already used today to apply social media filters and to offer autonomous checkout at some stores. Expect there to be an expansion of voice and machine vision interfaces that recognize faces and gestures throughout several industries to limit the amount of physical contact.

2. Strengthened Digital Infrastructure

COVID-19 caused people to adapt to working from home and in isolation. By forcing our collective hand to find digital solutions to keep meetings, lessons, workouts, and more going when sheltering in our homes, it allowed many of us to see the possibilities for continuing some of these practices in a post-COVID-19 world. For me, I realized that traveling to other countries just for a meeting isn’t always essential, and I have learned that video calls for all kinds of meetings (yes, even board meetings) can be equally effective. My daughter had her first piano lesson over a video call thanks to our social distancing requirements, and it went surprisingly well.

3. Better Monitoring Using IoT and Big Data

We see the power of data in a pandemic in real-time. The lessons we are receiving from this experience will inform how we monitor future pandemics by using internet of things technology and big data. National or global apps could result in better early warning systems because they could report and track who is showing symptoms of an outbreak. GPS data could then be used to track where exposed people have been and who they have interacted with to show contagion. Any of these efforts require careful implementation to safeguard an individual’s privacy and to prevent the abuse of the data but offer huge benefits to more effectively monitor and tackle future pandemics.

4. AI-Enabled Drug Development

The faster we can create and deploy an effective and safe drug to treat and a vaccine to prevent COVID-19 and future viruses, the faster it will be contained. Artificial intelligence is an ideal partner in drug development because it can accelerate and complement human endeavors. Our current reality will inform future efforts to deploy AI in drug development.

 

5. Telemedicine

Have you received the emails from your healthcare professionals that they are open for telemedicine or virtual consultations? To curb traffic at hospitals and other healthcare practitioners’ offices, many are implementing or reminding their patients that consultations can be done through video. Rather than rush to the doctor or healthcare center, remote care enables clinical services without an in-person visit. Some healthcare providers had dabbled in this before COVID-19, but the interest has increased now that social distancing is mandated in many areas.

6. More Online Shopping

Although there were many businesses that felt they had already cracked the online shopping code, COVID-19 taxed the systems like never before as the majority of shopping moved online. Businesses who didn’t have an online option faced financial ruin, and those who had some capabilities tried to ramp up offerings. After COVID-19, businesses that want to remain competitive will figure out ways to have online services even if they maintain a brick-and-mortar location, and there will be enhancements to the logistics and delivery systems to accommodate surges in demand whether that’s from shopper preference or a future pandemic.

7. Increased Reliance on Robots

Robots aren’t susceptible to viruses. Whether they are used to deliver groceries or to take vitals in a healthcare system or to keep a factory running, companies realize how robots could support us today and play an important role in a post-COVID-19 world or during a future pandemic.

8. More Digital Events

Organizers and participants of in-person events that were forced to switch to digital realize there are pros and cons of both. For example, I regularly take part in technology debates in the Houses of Parliament in London. This week’s debate about ‘AI in education’ was done as a virtual event and went very well and actually had more people attend. We didn’t experience a capacity issue as we do with an in-person event, plus there were attendees logged on from all around the world. While I don’t predict that in-person events will be replaced entirely after COVID-19, I do believe event organizers will figure out ways the digital aspects can complement in-person events. I predict a steep rise in hybrid events where parts of the event take place in person, and others are delivered digitally.

9. Rise in Esports

Sporting events, organizations, and fans have had to deal with the reality of their favorite past-times being put on hold or seasons entirely canceled due to COVID-19. But esports are thriving. There are even e-versions of F1 car racing on television, and although it might not be the same as traditional Formula 1 racing, it’s giving people a “sports” outlet. Unlike mainstream sporting events, esporting events can easily transition online. Similarly to events, I predict more hybrid sports coverage where physical events are complemented with digital offerings.

COVID-19 might be taxing our systems and patience, but it’s also building our resilience and allowing us to develop new and innovative solutions out of necessity. In a post-COVID-19 world, I predict we will take the lessons handed to us by our time dealing with the virus and make our world a better place. What do you see in the future?

———

For more on AI and technology trends, see Bernard Marr’s book Artificial Intelligence in Practice: How 50 Companies Used AI and Machine Learning To Solve Problems and his forthcoming book Tech Trends in Practice: The 25 Technologies That Are Driving The 4Th Industrial Revolution, which is available to pre-order now.

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Bernard Marr is an internationally best-selling author, popular keynote speaker, futurist, and a strategic business & technology advisor to governments and companies. He helps organisations improve their business performance, use data more intelligently, and understand the implications of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, blockchains, and the Internet of Things. Why don’t you connect with Bernard on Twitter (@bernardmarr), LinkedIn (https://uk.linkedin.com/in/bernardmarr) or instagram (bernard.marr)?

Source: 9 Future Predictions For A Post-Coronavirus World

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New Coronavirus Test Provides Results In As Little As 5 Minutes

On March 27, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use to Abbott Laboratories for its rapid COVID-19 test designed for doctor’s offices, urgent care centers and smaller hospitals without complex testing labs. According to the Illinois-based company, the test can give positive results in as little as five minutes, and negative results in about 13 minutes.

The test runs on Abbott’s ID NOW device, which is about the size of the toaster, and is currently used by many sites to quickly test for flu, strep and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) while patients wait. For COVID-19, health providers would have to order an additional $40 cartridge, about the size of a replacement ink cartridge for printers, specifically developed to pick up genetic signatures of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Most insurers have pledged to cover the cost of the test, which is about the same price as the ID NOW test for flu, without additional costs to patients who qualify.

The Abbott test—like the gold standard COVID-19 test developed by the U.S. government— uses chemicals to shatter the virus’ outer shell so it spills out its genetic material, in the form of RNA. Chemical reactions then amplify that genetic material so special molecular probes in the test solution can pick up even small amounts of virus.

That’s where the rapid test differs from the others in use right now; with the traditional technology, that amplification process requires repeatedly cycling the temperature of the chemical reactions from low to medium to high and back down again. The ID NOW device can perform the genetic expansion at a constant temperature, which means it can spit out results more quickly.

So why aren’t all COVID-19 tests run using the faster technology? One reason has to do with volume; traditional genetic tests can process hundreds or even thousands of tests a day; the ID NOW system can only run about four samples an hour. And while traditional tests may take longer to produce results, researchers don’t need to spend as much time developing the test itself so it can start testing people sooner. The rapid test “takes quite a bit of optimization and refining,” says John Frels, vice president of research and development at Abbott Diagnostics. That means it requires more up front development time and takes longer to get up and running.

For doctor’s offices, urgent care centers and smaller hospitals without complex lab facilities on site, the automated test could be a game changer. Doctors could run the test while patients wait, and provide results in an few minutes, rather than a few days. (Having the results could help them better advise people about how stringently they need to self-isolate and change their behavior to protect their families and friends.)

Frels says that if a patient has high levels of virus in their sample—taken from the back of the throat and nose—the test’s detector can hit the threshold for a positive diagnosis in as few five minutes. (The full test runs for 15 minutes, so for people with lesser amounts of virus, the molecular reactions continue trying to find as much virus as possible in the sample.)

The portable device also may signal a sea change in the way health care will be delivered in coming years; while the rapid testing platform was initially used for a few respiratory diseases, applying it in an emergency pandemic setting could scale up testing rapidly and suppress a rising tide of transmission. Frels says that Abbott is ramping up production of COVID-19 test cartridges and plans to distribute enough to enable 50,000 tests per day by next week.

By Alice Park March 31, 2020

Source: New Coronavirus Test Provides Results In As Little As 5 Minutes

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What to Know About Coronavirus Immunity and Chances of Reinfection

Troubling headlines have been cropping up across Asia: Some patients in China, Japan and South Korea who were diagnosed with COVID-19 and seemingly recovered have been readmitted to the hospital after testing positive for the virus again.

Because SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, was only discovered a few months ago, scientists are still trying to answer many big questions related to the virus and the disease it causes. Among them is whether patients can be reinfected by the virus after they seem to recover from the symptoms.

With other coronavirus strains, experts say the antibodies that patients produce during infection give them immunity to the specific virus for months or even years, but researchers are still figuring out if and how that works with COVID-19.

The answer has huge implications for the spread of the disease, since researchers believe it will continue to crash across the world in waves, hitting the same country multiple times.

Can you get re-infected after recovering from COVID-19?

There remains a lot of uncertainty, but experts TIME spoke with say that it’s likely the reports of patients who seemed to have recovered but then tested positive again were not examples of re-infection, but were cases where lingering infection was not detected by tests for a period of time.

Experts say the body’s antibody response, triggered by the onset of a virus, means it is unlikely that patients who have recovered from COVID-19 can get re-infected so soon after contracting the virus. Antibodies are normally produced in a patient’s body around seven to 10 days after the initial onset of a virus, says Vineet Menachery, a virologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

Instead, testing positive after recovery could just mean the tests resulted in a false negative and that the patient is still infected. “It may be because of the quality of the specimen that they took and may be because the test was not so sensitive,” explains David Hui, a respiratory medicine expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who also studied the 2002-2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which is caused by a coronavirus in the same family as SARS-CoV-2.

A positive test after recovery could also be detecting the residual viral RNA that has remained in the body, but not in high enough amounts to cause disease, says Menachery. “Viral RNA can last a long time even after the actual virus has been stopped.”

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Where have patients tested positive for COVID-19 after seeming to have recovered?

A study on recovered COVID-19 patients in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen found that 38 out of 262, or almost 15% of the patients, tested positive after they were discharged. They were confirmed via PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests, currently the gold standard for coronavirus testing. The study has yet to be peer reviewed, but offers some early insight into the potential for re-infection. The 38 patients were mostly young (below the age of 14) and displayed mild symptoms during their period of infection. The patients generally were not symptomatic at the time of their second positive test.

In Wuhan, China, where the pandemic began, researchers looked at a case study of four medical workers who had three consecutive positive PCR tests after having seemingly recovered. Similar to the study in Shenzhen, the patients were asymptomatic and their family members were not infected.

Outside of China, at least two such cases have also been reported in Japan (including one Diamond Princess cruise passenger) and one case was reported in South Korea. All three of them reportedly showed symptoms of infection after an initial recovery, and then re-tested as positive.

Does recovering from COVID-19 make you immune?

There hasn’t been enough time to research COVID-19 in order to determine whether patients who recover from COVID-19 are immune to the disease—and if so, how long the immunity will last. However, preliminary studies provide some clues. For example, one study conducted by Chinese researchers (which has not yet been peer-reviewed) found that antibodies in rhesus monkeys kept primates that had recovered from COVID-19 from becoming infected again upon exposure to the virus.

In the absence of more information, researchers have been looking at what is known about other members of the coronavirus family. “We are only three and a half months into the pandemic,” Hsu Li Yang, an associate professor and infectious disease expert at the National University of Singapore, says. “The comments we’re making are based on previous knowledge of other human coronavirus and SARS. But whether they extrapolate across COVID-19, we’re not so sure at present.”

One study conducted by Taiwanese researchers found that survivors of the SARS outbreak in 2003 had antibodies that lasted for up to three years—suggesting immunity. Hui notes that survivors of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS, which is also caused by a virus related to the one that causes COVID-19) were found to last just around a year.

Menachery estimates that COVID-19 antibodies will remain in a patient’s system for “two to three years,” based on what’s known about other coronaviruses, but he says it’s too early to know for certain. The degree of immunity could also differ from person to person depending on the strength of the patient’s antibody response. Younger, healthier people will likely generate a more robust antibody response, giving them more protection against the virus in future.

“We would expect that if you have antibodies that neutralize the virus, you will have immunity,” Menachery says. “How long the antibodies last is still in question.”

By Hillary Leung April 3, 2020

Source: What to Know About Coronavirus Immunity and Chances of Reinfection

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Critics: USCIS Policies Make Immigration Difficult And Dangerous

In the age of coronavirus, policies imposed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) are making it difficult for businesses, high-skilled professionals and others to file applications and meet deadlines. Attorneys say that although USCIS has made one positive accommodation their clients deserve policies that better take into account the new health and safety realities of doing business under social distancing, remote work and USCIS office closures.

In general, USCIS policies are years behind and have not adapted to the modern work environment, which has become more evident in the face of worldwide concerns about coronavirus. A glaring example, attorneys say, is USCIS still does not permit electronic filing for the most commonly used employment-based forms.

While USCIS service centers continue to operate, many businesses are following the recommendations of health experts and have moved to remote work. Paper-based applications and hard copy checks to pay filing fees are still required for most employment-based petitions. Vic Goel, managing partner of Goel & Anderson, said USCIS has not indicated it will relax or grant leniency on required filing dates and Requests for Evidence (RFE) response dates.

“Employers and law firms are straining to maintain paper-based processes while working remotely,” said Goel in an interview. “Particularly in areas where people have been told to temporarily close, as in California, New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania, it has become difficult to comply with USCIS requirements and meet filing deadlines.”

On March 20, 2020, USCIS made an accommodation welcomed by attorneys and employers by relaxing the requirement to obtain “wet” signatures on forms. “For forms that require an original ‘wet’ signature, per form instructions, USCIS will accept electronically reproduced original signatures for the duration of the National Emergency,” USCIS said in a statement. “This temporary change only applies to signatures. All other form instructions should be followed when completing a form.”

“The relaxation of the signature requirement helps but USCIS has not addressed the fact that applications are still paper-based or that the agency requires hard copy checks,” said Goel.

A practical solution would be for USCIS to allow filing fees to be charged on a credit card for all form types using Form G-1450, which is now permitted only for applications processed at a USCIS lockbox and, therefore, excludes the major employment-based applications filed at USCIS service centers. Goel notes USCIS also could issue an interim final rule to allow ACH payments direct from a bank using Form G-1450. Applications (or petitions) filed at service centers include H-1B, H-2A, H-2B, H-3, L-1, O-1, TN and a few others.

While the annual H-1B lottery garners most of the media attention, USCIS adjudicates more than twice as many H-1B petitions each year for continuing employment. (These are extensions for existing H-1B visa holders.) In addition, employers often need to file amendments for H-1B employees, including when they must work in a new metropolitan statistical area (MSA). There are also many applications for L-1 visa holders and employment-based immigrants that need processing.

Goel and other attorneys note current USCIS practices go against Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for controlling coronavirus. The process of gathering documents, forms and checks means Goel’s law firm has been forced to circulate employees in and out of the firm’s offices rather than permit everyone to work from home.

USCIS is not the only government agency whose policies have been questioned. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been criticized for requiring attorneys to provide their own protective gear to visit clients in detention. “ICE/ERO [Enforcement and Removal Operations] now requires all legal visitors, CODELs, and STAFFDELs to provide and wear personal protective equipment (PPE) (disposable vinyl gloves, N-95 or surgical masks, and eye protection) while visiting any detention facility,” according to ICE guidelines. Attorneys point out there is currently a shortage of such equipment.

Many foreign nationals are facing crucial deadlines and, unlike in a number of other countries, USCIS has not relaxed immigration deadlines. France has extended all expiring residence permits for 90 days, according to the Fragomen law firm, while Ireland has provided a “blanket two-month automatic renewal of immigration status for all foreign nationals whose status is due to expire March 29 to May 20, 2020.”

USCIS offices are closed at least until April 1, 2020. However, a new government directive discourages people gathering in federal offices. Combined with other concerns, the directive could delay reopening USCIS offices to the public.

The problem, Jeffrey Gorsky, a senior counsel with Berry Appleman & Leiden, said in an interview is many applications require in-person interviews or access to a USCIS office. For example, USCIS requires interviews as part of the process to obtain family-based and employment-based adjustment of status (to obtain a green card inside the United States). The same is true for naturalization. For several other immigration applications, biometrics collection (photos and fingerprints) must be done at USCIS offices.

The spouses of H-1B visa holders and individuals with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), among others, are likely to miss deadlines to renew Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) if USCIS office closures continue, note attorneys. Without an EAD many individuals cannot work legally in the United States. “USCIS remote work agreements, office closures and staff reductions portend more and more interview cancellations, appointment reschedulings, adjudication delays and backlog buildups that will likely become worse over time,” according to  the Seyfarth law firm.

“If the effects of the virus severely disrupt USCIS’s operations, the agency will likely not be able to decide requests to extend or renew work visa status or temporary employment authorization (for persons in the employment-based green card queue filing for adjustment of status) within an acceptable turnaround time,” writes Seyfarth. “Current regulations allowing interim employment authorization while an extension or renewal request is pending – up to 240 days to extend status for most work-visa holders and 180 days for adjustment of status applicants under current regulations – could thus prove to be insufficient.”

Seyfarth concludes: “Unless USCIS takes action to prolong and expand interim grants of employment authorization for pending immigration benefits requests, or otherwise excuse status violations, the situation for employers and their noncitizen temporary workers (and families) will become dire.”

In a March 16, 2020, statement, the Alliance of Business Immigration Lawyers (ABIL) urged U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the State Department and other federal agencies to “announce the immediate suspension of all immigration compliance deadlines in order to help minimize harms to public safety and business continuity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In sum, critics say USCIS can adapt its policies to the new realities of coronavirus – or it can continue its old ways that have made life more difficult and dangerous for attorneys, employers and immigrants.

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I am the executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy, a non-partisan public policy research organization focusing on trade, immigration and related issues based in Arlington, Virginia. From August 2001 to January 2003, I served as Executive Associate Commissioner for Policy and Planning and Counselor to the Commissioner at the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Before that I spent four and a half years on Capitol Hill on the Senate Immigration Subcommittee, first for Senator Spencer Abraham and then as Staff Director of the subcommittee for Senator Sam Brownback. I have published articles in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and other publications. I am the author of a non-fiction book called Immigration.

Source: Critics: USCIS Policies Make Immigration Difficult And Dangerous

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A Hotbed for the Virus..What Travelers Experienced Returning From Europe to Overwhelmed U.S. Airports

Eric DiMarzio and his fiancé returned home to Houston after a one-week vacation in Iceland. They were only supposed to be at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport for a one-hour layover.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump announced he would suspend all travel from Europe to the U.S. for 30 days to prevent the rising spread of the new coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19. The ban did not apply to U.S. citizens and it prompted a stampede of Americans out of the continent. Those returning would be subject to “enhanced” health screenings, however.

DiMarzio and his fiancé were waiting in line, along with what they estimated as a “few thousand” others, for hours at the Chicago airport on Saturday. They stood alongside couples with infants, college students traveling back from disrupted study abroad programs and elderly people, who are particularly high-risk for COVID-19. About 3,000 Americans returning from Europe were stuck for hours inside the customs area at O’Hare International Airport on Saturday, according to the Associated Press. Return flights from Europe were being funneled through 13 airports in the U.S.

“Just being around that many different people in that close quarters was worrying,” DiMarzio tells TIME, adding that he and his fiancé, both 31, were at the airport from about 7 p.m. until 11 p.m. One older woman who appeared to be tired kept almost falling asleep as the line kept trudging along slowly, he added.

Travelers across American airports have raised concerns this weekend that the screenings designed to limit the spread of COVID-19, may actually be making the disease more likely to spread as passengers are crammed in with people from different flights and countries as they make their way through long, winding lines. These packed spaces run counter to federal COVID-19 guidelines that recommend “social distancing” and avoiding large gatherings of people. The virus typically spreads between people who are in close contact — within about six feet of each other — through respiratory droplets that are produced when a person coughs or sneezes.

As situations at airports grew more concerning, some state officials blasted the federal government for allowing the build up of big crowds. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker was quick to criticize the Trump administration for the long lines at O’Hare and sent out a series of frustrated tweets on Saturday night, saying that “The federal government needs to get its s@#t together. NOW.”

On Sunday, Pritzker said that federal officials told him U.S. Customs and Border Patrol would be increasing staff at O’Hare today.

But passengers who had to deal with earlier crowds wonder if the experience may have increased the possibility of exposure. DiMarzio said in a Facebook post that “if there was someone with coronavirus on any of the international flights that arrived today, you could not plan a better way of exposing them to as many people as possible.” He wrote that he was kept in a customs room with thousands of other international travelers for four hours and the the line was “shuffled so many times” that “we frequently found ourselves beside more and more different travelers from different flights.”

DiMarzio and his fiancé missed a connecting flight from Chicago to Texas and ended up having to pay for a hotel out-of-pocket.

He told TIME he didn’t mind the long wait time if it helped contain the disease but worried that the cramped lines could have led to the spread of the coronavirus. “If (waiting) is the part that we have to play in all of this to lower the impact of this disease, then we’re happy to do our part,” DiMarzio said. “We just hope that something like this didn’t make things worse,” he added. DiMarzio says he hoped that “lessons are learned quickly” and that “the consequences from this weekend are not any bigger than just an inconvenienced day of travel for us.”

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport was also packed with long lines this weekend and even those who flew back from outside Europe were caught in the crowd.

“There was total confusion. It was chaos,” Nasreen Zeb told TIME. Zeb is a Dallas resident who identified her age as “above 50” and had just flown back from Pakistan. She said it took about five hours from the moment she exited the plane until when she got her luggage and that she and other travelers were not offered food or water.

Zeb wore a mask but said she was still nervous being within less one foot of other travelers, which included elderly people and young babies crying. She was also “shocked” that no one took her temperature before she went home.

College students whose study abroad programs were abruptly cut short were also among those stuck in O’Hare’s long lines. Sophie Bair, a 19-year-old Columbia University student who was studying abroad at the University of Amsterdam told TIME she booked a flight for Saturday, “not knowing how crazy it would be.” She spent more than four hours standing in lines. “It was concerning being around that many people,” Bair said but notes that she was less worried about herself as she is young and more worried about older travelers.

Tim Clancy, a 20-year-old University of Southern California student was studying abroad in Greece and flew back to the U.S. on Saturday morning.

Clancy said the lines at O’Hare “snaked around” and in some areas it would be a “huge clump of people together so i just felt like it was a hotbed for the virus to travel around.”

“I was more nervous that I contracted coronavirus in the span of getting on the flight and going through customs than I did through my entire time in Greece,” Clancy said.Clancy’s mother tweeted that “if he’s not sick now, odds are he will be soon.”

Clancy is now back home in Madison, Wisc., with his parents and sister but he is staying isolated from them in a guesthouse for the time-being.

By Sanya Mansoor March 15, 2020

Source: ‘A Hotbed for the Virus.’ What Travelers Experienced Returning From Europe to Overwhelmed U.S. Airports

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A day before the Europe travel ban went into effect, passengers arriving to Dulles International Airport and San Francisco International Airport describe their anxiety and travel woes. Subscribe to The Washington Post on YouTube: https://wapo.st/2QOdcqK Follow us: Twitter: https://twitter.com/washingtonpost Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/washingtonp… Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/washingtonpost/

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