More than 50,000 Americans abroad are struggling to make it home as border closings and coronavirus quarantines leave them stranded far from U.S. shores, officials said Wednesday.
Ian Brownlee, who heads the State Department's repatriation task force, told reporters that the government has helped bring home 9,000 Americans from 28 countries since the outbreak began.
Earlier this week, the State Department had said that 13,500 Americans needed help getting home. But the number has spiked as more borders close and the pandemic spreads.
"Our posts around the world have received requests for assistance for getting back to the United States from over 50,000 U.S. citizens," Brownlee said. "And we're committed to bringing home as many Americans as we possibly can."
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Over the next week and a half, 66 more flights will carry home 9,000 more Americans, Brownlee said.
Still, with more than 4,000 Americans stuck in Peru and about 7,000 trying to get out of Ecuador, many U.S. citizens said they don't understand what criteria the State Department is using to prioritize travelers and question why more military planes are not being used.
Vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and the ill, are given priority, Brownlee said.
Wisconsin resident Ayden Ehrhardt, 19, who has been in Peru for two weeks with a student group, said she hopes to be home by the end of the week.
"If negotiations between the U.S. and Peru continue, we should get out either tomorrow or Friday," she said.
Ehrhardt, who is part of a travel group of 12 students and three instructors, might be at a disadvantage because of her age.
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"They are low on the triage list because they are young and healthy," said her father, Bill Ehrhardt. "We communicated with two high-level State Department officials, and it appears things are moving forward now."
Crystal Alexander got home to Shelley, Idaho, this week after having been stuck in Roatán, Honduras. She's happy to be home, despite now being trapped inside because of a state stay-at-home order.
"High point of my day was some birds at the feeder," she said Wednesday. "Trying to arrange a foster dog so I have someone to be with."