TSA COVID-19 cases top 130 in California airports

The Four Percent



More than 130 Transportation Security Administration agents at California airports have come down with COVID-19 since the pandemic began in March, an agency count shows, and more than half of those cases have occurred at Los Angeles International Airport.

The count, updated regularly on the Transportation Security Administration website, showed 73 cases at LAX as of Nov. 3.

Authorities face a growing challenge in keeping TSA agents and travelers infection-free as the the nationwide case load increases, Americans begin to fly more often and holidays approach, experts said. Airports in Atlanta; Chicago; Dallas/Fort Worth; Newark, N.J.; Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, Fla.; and New York (JFK) have recorded more TSA COVID cases than LAX.

“The risk to the officers is increasing,” said Dr. David O. Freedman, professor of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and founder the university’s Travelers Health Clinic. Moreover, “the more officers that are infected, the more passengers that can get infected.”

Nationwide, TSA has added acrylic barriers, required agents to wear masks and gloves, boosted ID technology and changed procedures to kill more germs and reduce contact between agents and passengers. But through Nov. 3, TSA officials had reported 2,425 employees testing positive nationwide, of whom eight have died.

The agency’s tallies show the following rates as of Nov. 3 at California’s 10 busiest airports:

LAX: 73 cases included 67 screening officers. The last known day worked by an infected screening officer: Oct. 24.

San Francisco International: Eight cases, including seven screening officers. Last known day worked by an infected screening officer: Sept. 24.

San Diego International: 20 cases, including 18 screening officers. The last known day worked by an infected screening officer: Oct. 23.

Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International: 10 cases, all screening officers. The last known day worked by an infected screening officer: Sept. 11.

Oakland International: One case, a screening officer. The last known day worked by an infected screening officer: Sept. 16.

Sacramento International: Seven cases, all screening officers. The last known day worked by an infected screening officer: Sept. 2.

John Wayne Airport: Seven cases, including six screening officers. The last known day worked by an infected screening officer: Oct. 8.

Hollywood Burbank Airport: Three cases, all screening officers. The last known day worked by an infected screening officer: Oct. 9.

Ontario International: Three cases, all screening officers. The last known day worked by an infected screening officer: July 18.

Long Beach International, Two cases, both screening officers. The last known day worked by an infected screening officer: July 19.

One challenge in protecting TSA workers, Freedman said, is discerning whether infections are occurring “in the community or in the airport … and what about officers infecting each other?… Do you start testing everybody every day or every two days?”

TSA spokeswoman Lorie Dankers said the agency requires airport employees to wear N95 respirators or surgical masks provided by the agency, and some are required to wear eye protection as well. TSA does not conduct scheduled testing of its employees, Dankers said, but regularly reminds workers to stay home if they’re feeling ill.

Air travel has gradually increased since the first lockdowns in spring, and foot traffic through TSA checkpoints nationwide now hovers between 600,000 and 1 million passengers daily. At LAX alone, authorities counted 11.4 million departing passengers in the first nine months of 2020.



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