Before leaving for Germany earlier this week, we cleared security at the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). It was there that I overheard a rather scary team huddle amongst TSA officers.
TSA Officers Exposed To COVID-19 Continue To Work At LAX
The terminal was largely deserted. Even with only two checkpoints open, there was no wait to clear security on what pre-COVID would have been an extremely crowded afternoon.
After clearing security, I gathered my belongings and then unfolded the stroller. Once we had everything, we walked toward our gate.
Along the way, we passed a gaggle of TSA officers assembled around a supervisor (indicated by three stripes on his epaulet).
I could not believe what I was hearing:
“We’re not over this yet. Six of your colleagues here in the terminal tested positive this morning for COVID. You should all watch yourselves for symptoms.”
The positive testing was not so much a surprise as the reaction to it. All of these workers were presumably exposed, yet they continue business as usual and wait for symptoms to arise?
According to the TSA website, protection measures for frontline employees include:
- Granting paid administrative leave or excused absences (rather than requiring use of personal leave) for those who are diagnosed with COVID-19, need to self-quarantine while awaiting a COVID-19 test result, or have had direct contact with an infected individual.
The problem, of course, is that symptoms often do not arise immediately. Indeed, they can take several days to manifest themselves.
It isn’t clear if TSA manpower is stretched incredibly thin or if there are a surplus of agents since airports are so (relatively) quiet these days.
I asked the TSA to comment and a spokesperson noted:
TSA is and has been conducting contact tracing of each employee who receives a positive COVID-19 test result. TSA will continue to follow the guidance of the CDC and any updates the CDC provides to ensure that those who have met the threshold of exposure are sent home to self quarantine. We are providing the best protection for our workforce and the traveling public. TSA Administrator David Pekoske has repeatedly advised the workforce to continue protecting themselves both on and off duty. This is for their own protection as well as that of their co-workers and the traveling public.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, TSA has had uniform procedures in place to include: (1) Social distancing in and around the security checkpoint for employees and travelers; (2) reduced physical contact during the screening process; (3) Use of Personal Protective Equipment; and (4) Increased cleaning and disinfecting in and around the security checkpoint. These are elements of TSA’s “Stay Healthy. Stay Secure” campaign. Each TSA employee in contact with the public is required to wear a mask and a face shield at checkpoints across the country.
Employees are asked to stay home if they are sick and we have provided generous leave through policies that are sensitive to the continuing pandemic. Keeping employees safe is of the utmost concern throughout our agency.
It’s no wonder this virus spreads so rapidly when people exposed to it are not given the opportunity to stay home without risking adverse financial consequences. But I also understand that in the healthcare system, asymptomatic first responders are being asked to continue to work, even if COVID-19 positive. Perhaps the TSA is also stretched very thin. In either case, the news is scary.
image: Hipebrxonxatcha / Wikimedia Commons