You all remember Contagion, right? The 2011 Steven Soderbergh film starring Kate Winslet, Jude Law, and Gwyneth Paltrow about a global pandemic that was shot partly in San Francisco? Well, fiction becomes fact all too quickly as fears of the deadly — but not yet more deadly than some influenzas — Wuhan coronavirus have prompted the federal government to order flights from China to be rerouted through 11 specific "screener airports," with SFO being one of them.
Surgical masks abound and full hazmat attire can now reportedly be seen at San Francisco International Airport, as CDC medical personnel are screening all passengers arriving from China, and ordering quarantines in many cases for any traveler who has been to the Hubei province of China in the last two weeks.
As one friend of SFist said on Facebook Sunday night, after arriving from Europe and going through customs, "Holy shit, arriving at SFO is like stepping into a contagion movie. What a scary mess."
This friend who prefers to be anonymous said that everyone whom she saw who did not have Global Entry had to go through human passport control with old-school paperwork, which contributed to the chaos. And she said there were not enough signs directing people to their proper lines.
Another friend arriving from London Sunday evening also posted an Instagram story showing a lengthy customs line of people all wearing masks.
A Twitter user at SFO Monday afternoon just posted that he avoided "a ~800 person customs line" thanks to Mobile Passport. And another posting Sunday night said that his four-hour and 15-minute layover was not enough to get through the extraordinary customs-screening situation. "Do not travel through [SFO]," Twitterer @Cole_1107 writes. "Avoid at all costs. Expect customs lines of 6 hours plus."
Corona Virus chaos at SFO customs. ~800 person line dodged with mobile passport 👌— Jordan Pierson (@jordanapierson) February 3, 2020
Do not travel through @flySFO Avoid at all costs. Expect custom lines of 6 hours plus— Cole (@cole_1107) February 2, 2020
6+ hours to clear the customs in SFO due to travel history check for #coronavirus Still waiting for my mom from Istanbul, absolutely mental :/— Batuhan Yildirim (@yildirimbatuhan) February 3, 2020
SFO has been responding to users on Twitter telling them to direct their complaints to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The SF Chronicle also spoke to several passengers who reported customs lines of two to six hours on Sunday. All travelers from China are being asked to fill out questionnaires detailing all of their travel, and they are being screened by CDC personnel taking their temperature and inquiring about other symptoms. Anyone feeling sick, the CDC says, should stay in the customs area and not got to the on-site medical clinic at SFO.
On Friday, President Trump ordered more tight restrictions for foreign nationals arriving from China, and as he said in a weekend interview with Fox News, "We pretty much shut it down coming in from China. But we can’t have thousands of people coming in who may have this problem, the coronavirus. We’re going to see what happens, but we did shut it down, yes."
One American foreign exchange student who traveled back through LAX from China over the weekend told the tale of his ordeal to The New York Times today. As the Times notes, he's among thousands of foreign-exchange students who are now caught in this health crisis. And, "Because of the nature of their studies, often embedded with families across China, some of them are hundreds of miles from a consulate or embassy. Many students have had to find their own way from far-flung cities to major airports for the return home."
According to this dynamic map of the virus's spread from Johns Hopkins University, the vast majority of cases of the virus remain in mainland China, with nearly 17,500 confirmed as of Monday. There are now 11 confirmed cases in the U.S., including three new ones in California confirmed since Friday. Two of those individuals, a husband and wife from San Benito County who appear to have had person-to-person transmission, have been transferred to an unnamed hospital in San Francisco for escalated treatment.*
In the good news column, Bay Area-based Gilead Sciences is reportedly testing an anti-viral treatment for the novel coronavirus.
*Correction: This post previously misstated that the San Benito County patients had been moved to SF General.