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Uh Oh: TSA To Be Placed In Charge Of Screening Air Passengers For Coronavirus
MIAMI, FLORIDA - MAY 21: A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent's patch is seen as she helps travelers place their bags through the 3-D scanner at the Miami International Airport on May 21, 2019 in Miami, Florida. TSA has begun using the new 3-D computed tomography (CT) scanner in a checkpoint lane to detect explosives and other prohibited items that may be inside carry-on bags. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Airline companies are anxious to return to full service following coronavirus-related travel lockdowns, but questions remain as to how airports, airlines, and government agencies will screen travelers for the novel coronavirus.

That job, U.S. officials now say, could fall, at least partly, to the Transportation Safety Administration, the agency charged with performing somewhat effective security screening in most of the nation’s airports.

Under a Trump administration plan to increase anti-virus efforts and make domestic travel safer (reopening international travel in any meaningful way is still likely months away), the TSA will be charged with taking passengers’ temperatures as they move through existing TSA security checkpoints, per The Wall Street Journal.

“Details of the plan are under review by the White House and are subject to change, the people said. It couldn’t be determined which airports will initially have the new scanning procedures,” the WSJ added. “A senior Trump administration official said the initial rollout is expected to cost less than $20 million, and that passengers won’t be charged an additional fee.”

A dozen airports will be selected for the TSA’s pilot program, but the Trump administration hasn’t said which airports will add temperature screening.

Previous efforts at screening passengers for coronavirus caused hours-long wait times and crowded conditions at airports like Chicago’s O’Hare International. When travel restrictions came down from the White House barring most return travel from Asia and Europe travelers faced “several hour” waits at customs, per local Chicago news outlets, and were forced into cramped hallways and queue areas, which put them at risk of catching coronavirus, even as the U.S. government was trying to prevent the spread.

But if airport temperature checks don’t sound appealing to passengers, they’re even less appealing to the TSA, which says it would have to review its own policies before agreeing to add on any additional screening duties.

“People familiar with the matter said the TSA has raised concerns about taking on responsibility for temperature scanning, believing it doesn’t fall within the scope of its security mission. Its employees also have been exposed: Over 500 have tested positive for Covid-19 and six have died,” the WSJ reported.

There is also some uneasiness over the Constitutional implications of temperature checks and whether such screening is overly intrusive — or whether it is even effective at weeding out passengers who might have or spread the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. TSA officials reportedly raised concerns that mere temperature screening “won’t detect asymptomatic carriers and could block people with other ailments from travel.”

The Trump administration says a number of plans are still in the works, but that they are eager to see a program in place that could increase traveler confidence. Coronavirus hit the air travel industry hard, and domestic air travel has dropped by nearly 80% since the pandemic began.

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