Better late than never, but San Francisco International Airport (SFO) has become the first U.S. airport to introduce rapid COVID-19 testing. Screening is currently only for airport and airline employees, but it is one step closer to a testing regime that could re-open skies.
Rapid COVID-19 Testing At SFO
Per Chris McGinnis, the testing site is located in the international terminal (G gates) in a ground floor courtyard. The site had a soft opening last month for select airline employees, but is now open to all airport workers and airline employees. Technicians use a toaster-sized Abbott Labs device to analyze samples. Results are available in 13 minutes or less.
While we’e seen elaborate testing sites pop up all over the world, they have been few and far between in the USA. Delta Air Lines offers rapid testing in a few of its crew lounges, but we have not seen any major airport offer such rapid testing to passengers.
Authorities are split on such tests. Trade groups like the Airlines Council International (ACI) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) believe such tests can quickly replace mandatory quarantines.
ACI World Director General Luis Felipe de Oliveira said:
“Unnecessary quarantine measures are particularly harmful to passenger confidence as international air travelers have no assurance that, if they make flight arrangements, they will be able to return to their place of departure to continue their daily lives. The imposition of such restrictions fails to take into account other options such as testing.”
But a UN International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) task force cautions:
“Rapid tests cannot be a precondition for travel due to their unreliability or impracticability. It should be noted that the rapid testing of all passengers prior to departure would not be operationally viable unless more real-time, rapid and reliable testing becomes available.”
But that’s exactly why SFO’s new rapid testing site is great news. Indeed, tests that take a day or more to return are practically worthless. But imagine rapid PCR tests that passengers could take before stepping onto an international flight. This could re-open borders on a far shorter time horizon than waiting for a vaccination.
I understand that these sorts of rapid tests have a fail rate of around 20%. But if passengers take a rapid test prior to departure and again upon arrival, it should minimize a great deal of that uncertainty. The world is ready to travel again. Rapid testing presents the most viable way to safely travel again. Thus, I’m excited about the progress SFO is making and hope that such testing will soon expand to passengers and be available across the United States.