Here's Why You Need To Wear A Face Mask At Airports And On Airplanes

TSA throughput data, data from the Transportation Security Administration, two weeks after Labor Day weekend, On November 4, a week before last Thanksgiving, By December 12, epicenter of the pandemic

In the past week, TSA officers have tested positive for Covid-19 at 52 U.S. airports. TSA

The delta variant has not kept Americans off planes this summer. Air travel has been booming back, with more than 2 million travelers passing through U.S. airport security checkpoints five of seven days last week, according to TSA throughput data.

Unfortunately, something else is also booming back at airports. In just the past week, TSA officers at more than four dozen U.S. airports have tested positive for Covid-19, according to data from the Transportation Security Administration. The number doubled in just one week, from 25 airports reporting at least one Covid-positive TSA employee to 52 airports during the most recent seven-day period.

Throughout the pandemic, there’s been a direct relationship between Covid transmission rates in the U.S. and the number of TSA officers infected with Covid. When the country gets sicker, more TSA officers test positive; when transmission rates fall in the U.S., fewer TSA officers catch the virus. While that may not be surprising, it is striking how the pattern has played out over the past year.

Last year, two weeks after Labor Day weekend, the U.S. recorded an average of 13.3 new daily cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 people, according to tracking data from the Brown School of Public Health. Over the same period, 229 TSA employees had active Covid-19 infections.

On November 4 of last year, the country was recording 28.2 daily infections per 100,000 people, on average. At that time, 391 TSA officers had active infections.

Flash forward two weeks to a week before last Thanksgiving, when the U.S. was recording an average of 48.4 new daily cases per 100,000 people. Then, 585 TSA officers were infected with the virus.

By December 12, the country was tallying 66.5 new infections per day, on average, per 100,000 people — and 830 TSA officers had the virus.

Currently, the U.S. is seeing about half that level of transmission, recording 31 new daily cases per day, on a seven-day rolling average, per 100,000 people. Right now, there are 441 TSA officers with active infections.

Fifty airports are currently impacted from coast to coast, along with two airports in Hawaii. Some states are disproportionately affected. Nine of the airports that have reported at least one TSA officer testing positive for Covid-19 in the past week are located in Florida, the epicenter of the pandemic for the past month.

The vast majority of TSA officers who become infected with the virus are screeners who come into contact with passengers and their belongings. For more than a year, TSA officers have worn face shields in addition to face masks where an acrylic barrier is not present between agents and passengers. In an effort to prevent possible cross-contamination, officers change or clean their gloves between each interaction, including pat downs, ID checks and bag inspections.

Per guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all people, including workers and members of the public, regardless of their vaccination status, are required to wear a mask in airports and on airplanes.

Since the pandemic began, 18 TSA employees and one screening contractor have died after contracting the virus.

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