US airport security officers fear exposure as cases rise

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A woman wearing a mask walks goes through security at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Monday, March 16, 2020, in Arlington, Va. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
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WASHINGTON (AP) — At least six Transportation Security Administration officers have tested positive for the new coronavirus[1] and dozens were in self-quarantine Monday as the disease takes an increasing toll on an agency critical to the safety of U.S. aviation.

TSA said it was providing safety training to employees and operations were running smoothly. It stood by its decision to not provide officers with respirators as their union requested last week.

Union leaders said they were still concerned, even as a major drop in traffic at the nation’s airports seemed to reduce the potential for exposure. Officers screen 2 million passengers around the country on a typical day.

Joe Shuker, a vice president for the union representing workers in the region that includes Philadelphia and Washington, said he was surprised the government hadn’t shut down air traffic.

“Our guys can’t stay six feet away from anybody, we’re patting people down,” Shuker said. ‘We’re putting people at risk for no reason.”

TSA over the weekend announced the positive test of an officer at Orlando International Airport who had last been at work March 10.

The officer was being treated and all employees who came into contact with the person over the previous two weeks were in self-quarantine at home.

There was an earlier positive test by an officer at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and four at the airport in San Jose, California.

The TSA did not disclose the total number of employees in isolation because of the exposure but the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents the nearly 46,000 officers, said about 40 workers at just the San Jose airport were told to self-quarantine.

Around the globe, airline bookings [2] are plummeting and cancellations soaring as governments restrict travel and people fear being enclosed in an airplane for several hours during a pandemic that has sickened more than 180,000 people and killed more than 7,100.

TSA said checkpoints remain open though some lanes may be closed. Shuker said the Philadelphia airport was unusually quiet. “”There are enough people because nobody is flying,” he said. “This place should be packed right now on a Monday,”

The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education.

The AP is solely responsible for all content.

References

  1. ^ new coronavirus (apnews.com)
  2. ^ airline bookings (apnews.com)

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